.25 caliber War And Peace & The Mask Of Demetrios Was No CoffinThursday, January 20, 2011
A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.
It is one of those convenient, question-begging aphorisms coined to discredit the unpleasant truth that chance plays an important, if not predominant, part in human affairs. Yet it was not entirely inexcusable. Inevitably chance does occasionally operate with a sort of fumbling coherence readily mistakable for the workings of a self-concious Providence.
The story of Dimitrios Makropoulos is an example of this.
The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler, 1937
There was a pause as the chief pilot gunned up the four turbo jets[a turbo prop Vickers Viscount] into a banshee scream and then, with a jerk of released brakes, the 10.30 BEA Fllight 130 to Rome, Athens and Istanbul gathered speed and hurtled down the runway and up into a quick, easy climb.
In ten minutes they had reached 20,000 feet and were heading south along the wide air-channel that takes the Mediterranean traffic from England. The scream of the jets died to a low drowsy whistle. Bond unfastened his seat belt and lit a cigarette. He reached for the slim, expensive-looking attaché case on the floor beside him and took out The Mask of Demetrios by Eric Ambler and put the case, which was very heavy in spite of its size on the seat beside him.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957.
"The Appointment in Samarra" (as retold by W. Somerset Maugham )
The speaker is Death
There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
‘That is good.’
‘Because I cannot sleep until I have killed that man. I do not know if what happened tonight has any connection with you and your assignment. I do not care. For some reason, war has been declared on me. If I do not kill Krilencu, at the third attempt he will certainly kill me. So we are now on our way to keep an appointment with him in Samarra.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming , 1957
So much had passed, the years were heavy-laden. I was a different man. Not least, I was an American now, and in the very prime of middle age at thirty four. And married I was to my lovely, peerless sweetheart, who had waited all those years. We had a son, our John. And a good home back in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where I hoped to sit again at my desk in the counting house.
Honor’s Kingdom, Owen Parry, 2002
Appointment in Samarra, published in 1934, is the first novel by John O'Hara. It concerns the self-destruction of Julian English, once a member of the social elite of Gibbsville, which is O’Hara’s fictionalized version of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
In his foreword to the 1952 reprint, O'Hara says that the working title for the novel was The Infernal Grove. He got the idea for the title Appointment in Samarra when Dorothy Parker showed him the story in Maugham's play, Sheppey. He says "Dorothy didn't like the title, [publisher] Alfred Harcourt didn't like the title, his editors didn't like it, nobody liked it but me." O'Hara describes it as a reference to "the inevitability of Julian English's death."
Nash looked at Bond with empty eyes. ‘Well, I suppose we’d better settle for the night, I’ve got my book.’ He held it up. ‘War and Peace. Been trying to plough through it for years. You take the first sleep old man.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming 1957
Bond took off his coat and tie and laid them on the bunk besied him. He leant back against the pillows and propped up his feet on the bag with the Spektor that stood on the floor beside his attaché case. He picked up his Ambler and found his place and tried to read. After two pages he found that his concentration was going. He was too tired. He laid the book down on his lap and closed his eyes. Could he afford to sleep? Was there any other precaution they could take?...The train gave a moan and crashed into the tunnel.
From Russia with Love, In Fleming 1957
The train ran into a tunnel.
The Mask of Demetrios, Eric Ambler, 1937
The book [War and Peace] was still open on Nash’s lap, but now a thin wisp of smoke was coming out of the hole a the top of he spine and there was the faint smell of fireworks in the room…'Too bad that book of yours is only for reading, old man.’
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957
Suddenly Bond’s scrabbling fingers felt something hard. The book! How did one work the thing? Which way up was it? Would it shoot him or Nash? Desperately Bond held it out towards the great sweating face. He pressed at the bas of the cloth spine.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957
It struck me as funny that Bond's copy of The Mask of Demetrios somehow saved his life on board the Orient Express and that in the end he was able to rid himself of the Russian (but English born) assassin with the Russian's own book, a copy of War and Peace!
It might be, he mused as he rode along the lake on a dappled horse with a great rump and a short neck, like one of those prancing steeds that you see in those old pictures, but this horse never pranced and he needed a firm jab with the spur to break even into a smart trot, it might be, he mused, that the great chiefs of the secret service in their London offices, their hands on the throttle of this great machine, led a life full of exciadvetement; they moved their pieces here and there, they saw the pattern woven by the multitudinous threads (Ashenden was lavish with his metaphors) they made a picture out of the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle; but it must be confessed that for the small fry like himself to be a member of the secret service was not as an adventurous an affair as the public thought.
Giulia Lazzari, W. Sommerset Maugham, 1928
And after finishing From Russia with Love and having read The Mask for Demetrios, too many times to want to read it again, and re-read some of the stories featuring, really, the first literature and literate spy, Ashenden, by W. Sommerset Maugham I think I will not read John O'Hara's An Appointment in Samarra and I will also give Tolstoy a temporary skip. I will go to bed. Oh, I forgot James Bond and Tatiana Romanova's traveling name on the Orient Express was Mr. and Mrs. Somerset with one m. But I wonder if this is not just curious coincidence? On the other hand the other M...