Forgotten Books: The Arthur Abdel Simpson Novels by Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler (1909-1998) is a British writer known for his thrillers and spy novels. Last year I read him for the first time when I read his most famous book A Coffin for Dimitrios, a book that almost inevitably features in top mystery lists.

In 1962, Ambler created the character of Arthur Abdel Simpson, a British-Egyptian, living in Greece, who appears in two of his books: The Light of Day, and Dirty Story.

Arthur Abdel Simpson, is a small-time crook who has only been arrested 10 to 12 times. When the novel opens, Simpson is down on his luck and needs cash rather badly. Driving a car, he takes unsuspecting visitors to a hotel, from their to various entertainment spots, and while they are busy over there he goes back to the hotels and burgles their rooms. When he sees a man who looks like an American tourist come out of Athens airport, he puts his plan in action by offering the man his services. After getting the tourist, Harper (that is what the man claims his name is) busy with some girls at Madame Irma, Simpson hurries back to the hotel and starts rifling through Harper’s possessions. But this time he has made a fatal error because Harper too returns, catches him in the act, beats him up, and then blackmails him to take a car across the border to Turkey.

Suspecting, quite correctly, that there might be illegal stuff in the car, Simpson checks the car thoroughly but is unable to find anything. But, of course, the Turkish border force is more vigilant than him and finds stuff in the car that they believe is for rebel groups in Turkey which is going through a period of political instability. They agree to let Simpson go, if he’d report back to them about the actions of Harper and his friends. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, Simpson agrees but he hasn’t encountered Miss Elizabeth Lipp as yet…

Love this cover

In Dirty Story, we meet Simpson after a period of five years. He is back in Athens and continuing with his nefarious activities. This time round, he gets into a tangle with the law when he assists a film company that is making a porno. Trying to escape the clutches of the law, he joins a mining company in Central Africa. Only the mining company is just a front and the real aim is to acquire a land rich with minerals and if a few Africans get cheated or killed, how does it matter?

The Light of Day is pretty entertaining but Dirty Story is a bit of a drag at times. Simpson is an engaging rogue but I missed Colonol Haki of the Turkish Secret Service. There are references to him in the first book but he never makes an appearance. I simply can’t get over his smile in Dimitrios:

Colonel Haki was slowly turning the pages inside the folder, and on his way was a look that Latimer had not seen there before. It was the look of the expert attending to the business he understands perfectly. There was a sort of watchful repose in his face that reminded Latimer of a very old and experienced cat contemplating a very young and inexperienced mouse.


First Line: It came down to this: if I had not been arrested by the Turkish police, I would have been arrested by the Greek police.

Title: The Light of Day

Author: Eric Ambler

Publication Details: Glasgow: Fontana, 1979.

First Published: 1962

Pages: 220

Trivia: The book was made into a movie Topkapi in 1964.


Opening Lines: WRITE IT on the walls.

H. Carter Gavin, Her Brittanic Majesty’s Vice-Consul in Athens, is a shit.

Title: Dirty Story: A Further Account of the Life and Adventures of Arthur Abdel Simpson.

Author: Eric Ambler

Publication Details: London: The Bodley Head, 1967.

First Published: 1967

Pages: 210


The books might be available in libraries, I borrowed them from H.M Library at Fountain. [F.A 113C & F.A 87].


Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.


Submitted for various challenges.

8 thoughts on “Forgotten Books: The Arthur Abdel Simpson Novels by Eric Ambler

  1. Neeru – Interesting isn't it that a character can make enough of an impression that you miss him when he's not in a book. These two sound like good reads, especially the first, and the setting's really appealing. Thanks for the review.


  2. Fascinating to hear about this Neeru – I only knew about LIGHT OF DAY (via the Oscar-winning movie version, TOPKAPI) – thanks.


  3. I've read several Eric Ambler books within the past couple of years and I've always meant to go back for more. My library has only a few so I suppose it's Abe Books once again for me. Luckily they have mostly free shipping. 🙂 I love Ambler's style. In my mind he is one of the most stylish writers to have ever picked up a pen (or whatnot). I'm not familiar with the two books in your post but I do like the opening sentences. 🙂


  4. You are absolutely right Margot. There are certain characters who always stay with me. In Light of the Day, we are told that Col. Haki is now Gen. Haki and there are telephonic conversations with him but he is never physically present though he casts a long shadow.


  5. Yvette, if you don't mind reading reading books on your desk/ lap top, e-reader etc, than you can borrow Ambler's book for free from Open Library. I intend doing so next year.


  6. Sorry to be so late commenting, for some reason December has been very busy at work and I find it hard to get on the computer at home…I have read The Light of Day and hope to find a copy of Dirty Story sometime and read it. I have several other Eric Ambler books… unread so far, although I did read A Coffin for Dimitrios. I checked out your review and you liked that book better than I did, but I do plan to re-read it someday. And I hope to watch the movie based on that book soon.I liked Light of Day and the Arthur Simpson character. Topkapi is high on our list of re-watched films. We like heist films in general.


  7. Please don't apologise, Tracy. Read the posts at your leisure. It is always a pleasure when you visit the blog. Now I want to watch Topkapi. Perhaps one of these days…


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