The Levanter By Eric Ambler

in Book-review
Although the details of this book have been superceded by the events of the past forty years, it remains interesting, though unfortunately not compelling.

Michael Howell is a businessman in the Mideast region, running his family's business. Against his will he's put into a difficult decision, and yet manages to come out alive. This is no small accomplishment.

Most of the novel takes place in Syria, where his family's business's assets are being held by the government, yet Howell is doing his best to minimize the damage, when one of his plants is targeted by Palestinian terrorists to launch a large attack on Israel.

Despite the difficulties, Howell manages to foil the terrorists and escape with his own life. His business is finished in the Arab world, but at the end of the book is ready to simply relocate.

However, it's difficult to understand Ambler's point, because Howell is telling the story to defend his own actions, because at the end he's being attacked by journalists, though it's not clear whether it's because he seemed to be on the side of the terrorists or whether it's because he prevented an attack on Israel.

And sometimes Ambler tells the story from the viewpoint of Teresa Malandra, Howell's personal assistant and lover, who makes her acerbic observations on his character.

I for one am at a loss to think what else Howell could have done under the circumstances, unless it was simply flee Syria, abandon the family business assets there and hope for the best.

Perhaps this novel is simply Ambler's cynical presentation of the world. Howell is not a heroic type, but does what he has to do because he has to do it.

The Palestinian leader Ghaled is a vicious thug who deserves no sympathy.

Howell is angry when the Israeli official he manages to tip off is not cooperative, not even appreciative. The Syrian minister Howell works with is intelligent but focused on his own career. He and Howell have a mutually manipulative relationship.

At the end, what happens to Ghaled is murky. He's dead, but who shot him? It had to be Howell, but Howell doesn't seem to want to take the credit. Why not?

This book is unusually tied down to reality by technical and engineering details. Howell is a manager who understands the physical processes of what goes on in his factories, not just a "manager" looking for markets or depending on the expertise of underlings.
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The Levanter By Eric Ambler

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This article was published on 2010/12/15