Eric Ambler, author of modern thrillers and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, died Thursday in his London apartment of unreported causes. He was 89.
Among the best-known of Ambler’s 21 published books are “Epitaph for a Spy” in 1938, “The Mask of Dimitrios” in 1939, “Journey into Fear” in 1940 and “The Schirmer Inheritance” in 1953.
In Ambler’s fifth book, “The Mask of Dimitrios,” he wrote of an unassuming academic caught up in the murderous espionage battles of the Balkans in the 1930s. The novel, the first to bring him international recognition, was made into a film by Warner Bros., starring Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Peter Lorre.
Ambler, born in London, had studied engineering at the University of London and later worked in advertising. He served in the Royal Artillery during World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
His early novels were generally set in Eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean and were written from a left-wing point of view, a conscious reaction to the tradition of earlier novelists who wrote of the glory of the empire.
Ambler also wrote 16 screenplays, the most noted being the adaptation of Nicholas Monsarrat’s novel “The Cruel Sea,” for which he received a 1953 Oscar nomination. Others were “The Purple Plain” in 1954, “A Night to Remember” in 1958, and “Wreck of the Mary Deare” in 1959.
His book “The Light of Day” won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel in 1964. The association made Ambler a Grand Master in 1975.
Ambler lived in Hollywood for several years with his second wife, Joan, who worked as a film producer for Alfred Hitchcock. He had no children.