Robert Ludlum lives on, at least in spirit. The latest work to be
issued under his name, THE AMBLER WARNING, is a ghostwritten homage
not only for Ludlum but also for Eric Ambler, a departed author who
arguably is the father of 20th century espionage fiction. The
Ambler of the novel, however, refers to a very confused man named
Hal Ambler, who is in the middle of a major identity crisis.
THE AMBLER WARNING opens at a clandestine psychiatric facility on a
restricted-access island just off the coast of Virginia, within
spitting distance of Langley. The facility ostensibly treats
intelligence agents who may know too much or who are too dangerous
to leave wandering among the general populace. One of these
patients is Hal Ambler, who is kept heavily medicated and guarded
at all times. When a hospital worker helps him escape, Ambler
doesn't think twice before jumping, and almost immediately reverts
to form in utilizing the training and skills that ultimately got
him hospitalized in the first place.
Ambler's immediate goal is to determine who caused him to be
hospitalized, and why. There's one problem, however: Ambler does
not exist. There is no record of him anywhere. Worse, when he looks
in the mirror, he doesn't recognize the man he sees looking back.
What Ambler does uncover, though, is that someone is attempting to
frame him for the murders of foreign heads of state, with a most
significant one being ready to occur within a rather short period
of time. Ambler, with the might and majesty of the U.S.
intelligence service hunting him, finds a couple of unlikely
allies, including an agency number-cruncher who is able to
extrapolate conclusions from raw data with extremely accurate
Ambler himself has an amazing ability as well, one that permits him
to read an individual's facial expressions and body language with
unerring accuracy and thus determine their true intent and
motivation; Ambler is, in other words, a veritable truth detector.
But as he races to prevent an assassination that will have
worldwide repercussions, Ambler discovers that everything he has
come to believe may be wrong after all --- and the stakes are too
high for error.
THE AMBLER WARNING is reminiscent of the works of both its namesake
and of Ludlum, though it is not quite the equal of either. It does,
however, serve as a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with
those works actually written by Ludlum during his lifetime. One of
the most interesting aspects of the book is its conclusion. Those
of a particular geopolitical bent could argue, quite correctly,
that the good guys lost; for readers who keep abreast of world
politics and economics, the ending will provide a number of
elements for discussion.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010