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1st edition cover
(Hodder & Stoughton)

Journey Into Fear is a well-known 1940 spy thriller novel by Eric Ambler. Film adaptations were released in 1943 and 1975.


Plot summary

The first part of the novel focuses on Colonel Haki, the dour but basically likable head of Turkish Security, who already made his first appearance in The Mask of Dimitrios and returns in later Ambler stories as a general.

The protagonist is a British engineer traveling back from Turkey, where he had completed high-level technical talks which could help cement a Turkish-British alliance in the recently-started Second World War. German spies seek to assassinate him. Most of the plot takes place on board an Italian ship, where the protagonist travels in company with his nemesis - a satanic yet believable German intellectual spymaster, accompanied by a Romanian hired killer - and with a rich cast of other characters, such as a Turkish secret agent, a Spanish courtesan and her pimp, and a French couple of which the husband is left-leaning and his wife is a staunch reactionary.


As common in Ambler's books, the protagonist is not a professional spy, and is clearly out of his depth. Indeed, the chief Nazi treats him with open contempt, which for much of the book seems amply justified. Yet ultimately the German professional pays dearly for underestimating this amateur - another plot element which was to be repeated in later Ambler books.

The book came to be regarded as a classic among spy thrillers, setting out what became some of the genre's basic conventions and immensely influencing later works including the James Bond series. (In particular the main part of From Russia, with Love, like Ambler's book, takes place during days and nights of tense traveling from Turkey to France, with the protagonist in imminent danger of being assassinated; while Fleming's protagonist is a professional, in this book he makes amateurish mistakes.)

Part of the book's lasting charm is its capturing the atmosphere and mindset of the "Phony War" phase during which it was written: France is standing strong and nobody dreams that it would fall within a few months, the Italians are strictly neutral and there is no suggestion that they are about to ally with Germany against Britain, and so on. From the book it seems that Ambler—like many Britons at the time of writing—expected the war to be more or less a replay of the First World War.

Film adaptations

A 1943 film adaptation starred Joseph Cotten, with Orson Welles acting and producing. In 1975, Daniel Mann remade Journey Into Fear with Sam Waterston and Vincent Price. That film is best remembered today as the first major Hollywood production to be filmed in Vancouver. In 2001, a Vancouver-based artist, Stan Douglas, remade the movie as a film installation with a recombinant soundtrack.

See also

  • MAH (Milli Emniyet Hizmeti - the Turkish National Security Service, Colonel Haki's real-life organization.) The actual head of the agency was Şükrü Âli Ögel.


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