Passage of Arms



Passage of Arms (1959) - by Eric Ambler

Another book of the grand master of 20th century literature, Eric Ambler.
In the early 1950s, when Malaysia was still a British colony, there was much (Chinese) Communist guerilla activity to overcome colonial rule. Here a group of guerillas came into an ambush of the British army and get all shot. An Indian clerk from a nearby palm plantation estate is ordered to help burrying them. He is observing some hints who lead him to a hidden weapon concealment. He waits patiently a few years and then tries to sell the arms to a Chinese businessmen. He has a livedream what to do with the money.


Obscure Business Deals

Travelling in Asia means sometimes getting in contact with weird people and getting offered strange business proposals. Here an American Tourist travelling round the world with his wife gets an offer to take part in an arms deal in Singapore. It's all very easy looking, he just has to give his name for the custom and to deal a handing over. In Asia business stuff always looks very easy (as described) and get's more and more complicated when it comes to the details. Here it get's really adventurous.

There is nothing better than a good book. And that's how it looks nowadays. Image: Asienreisender, 2012, Pangkor Island.

All the in the arms deal involved people don't care about the consequences of equipping war-leading parties with weapons. The American intermediary is a well-to-do company owner, married, with children, very well educated, behaves perfectly - quite a role-model for any middle-class child. He does not need the money. It's just extra money for - what actually?! Well, for anything... When he gets the proposal to play a role in an arms deal, he is just considering it as any business. That matches perfectly a 'common sense'. If one sells candies or cluster bombs, it doesn't matter, so long it's good business, means, brings profit.


The Dark Side

When things are getting unexpected, Greg, the American, is forced to make a short trip to Sumatra to complete the deal. Yet in the plane he still thinks it's a good adventure to travel on other peoples costs, but after arrival it turns really nasty. He get's a deep taste of what it means to come between the lines of war-leading parties, equipped with rifles, machine-guns, grenades and so on. It gives the reader also a glance on what kind of people are these warlords, guerillas and authorities in instabile regions of the world; here perfectly shown at the example of Sumatra in the late 1950s.



Ambler is not only brilliant in describing all the complications life provides us, but he also describe different people and their considerations so realistically that it's barely believable that it is a novel only. His deep knowledge of people includes absolutely convincing the thoughts and acts of Indians and Chinese businessmen living in Malaysia respectively in Southeast Asia. Also the describtions of the joung Indian clerk's excursions into the jungle are exactly so, as I experience the Malaysian jungle when hiking into it. Absolutely unique and thrilling from the first to the last page.

Ambler's books are not long (200 to 300 pages) but full of relevant and thrilling details. No word is wasted.

Have a look for another review of Eric Ambler's 'The Night-Comers'.

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Published on July 24th, 2012