Spy master Eric Ambler in The Times archive

In The Times's recentish relaunch, their worst decision in the eyes of me was to lose their standalone Saturday Books supplement (book reviews now fight for a few pages in a wider scale Review section), but by far worse in the eyes of the younger generation was the mutation of the magazine "The Knowledge" into an A5 (small notebook size) rag called "The Playlist", into which the week's listings are crammed.
There is one good feature of this minor appendage, however, which is the inside back cover, "Archive: a curio from the vaults of The Times". The Times archive, going back 200 years, is subscription-only, so it is lovely to see a daily photo from days gone by, and the longer piece in the weekly edition. Last Saturday's was an appreciation of Eric Ambler from 1985, by then-Times writer James Fenton. Fenton first got to know Ambler in Saigon, where the "street urchins" sold books. They gave customers a day or two to read their most valuable stock, then wanted it back. "An Ambler was, to them, a unit of currency. There was no question of it gathering dust on a shelf. It was to be sold, read, given back, sold again, read again, given back again. That's what it was for."
James Fenton later met "Mr Ambler" (such politeness was house style in 1985), who told the journalist that at the time he took up thriller-writing he was working in advertising. He was given a promotion – the ExLax (a chocolate laxative) account. He decided instead to revamp the image of the thriller, which at the time (the 1930s) was a despised form compared with the "ingeneous and highbrow authors at work on the detective story". Mr Ambler did not like the villains in thrillers: "Power crazed or coldly sane master-criminals, or old-fashioned professional devils. I no longer believed a word of them. Nor did I believe in their passions for evil and plots against civilisation. As for their world conspiracies, they appeared to me no more substantial than toy balloons, over-inflated and squeaky to the touch."
Eric Ambler's five classic pre-war thrillers, Uncommon Danger, Epitaph for a Spy, Cause for Alarm, The Mask of Dimitrios and Journey into Fear, established his reputation, according to Fenton, still (in 1985) making people sit up when they come across one. And, it seems, in 2009.

Books and writers bibliography of Eric Ambler.

Euro Crime on Penguin reissue of Eric Ambler classics.

Eric Ambler at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Eric Ambler at Wikipedia.