Title: The Intercom Conspiracy
Author: Eric Ambler
Ambler, Eric (1969, 1986) The Intercom Conspiracy. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
PR6001.M48 I5 1986
Date Posted: November 28, 2016
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The ageing heads of the intelligence services of two unnamed minor European countries hatch a money-making scheme. When the owner of an extreme right-wing weekly magazine, Intercom, based in Geneva, dies, they buy the company which publishes it. They start sending the surprised editor “articles”, which consist of highly sensitive information about the weapons systems of the USA, USSR, Britain and NATO. Before the fourth “article” has even been published the magazine’s lawyer is contacted by a potential buyer. The two intelligence heads have correctly calculated that the security services of all the nations they’re mentioning in their “articles”will pay handsomely to close the magazine down. To the magazine lawyer’s amazement, the buyer is prepared to pay $500,000. The sale is quickly carried through, the magazine closed down, and all its assets mysteriously removed. The intelligence heads divide their takings and start planning for a comfortable retirement.
Simple though the basic plot is, the treatment is complicated. The text takes the form of notes for a book about the affair which a publisher has commissioned from the noted historian-turned-thriller writer, Charles Latimer. Latimer has mysteriously disappeared and the reader is left to read through the notes of his interviews with various people and officials involved in the affair, their telegrams and letters, as well as his imaginative ‘reconstructions’ of important scenes – an approach which has been described as “postmodern.”
The majority of the events are seen through the eyes of Intercom’s editor, Theodore Carter. As soon as the “articles” start to appear he receives mysterious phone calls, then an intimidating visit from two “journalists” who he thinks are from the CIA. He is then kidnapped, taken to an apartment and threatened by unknown agents, before being released. Returning to his office to retrieve the key documents, Carter disturbs burglars and is knocked out with some kind of nerve gas. When he regains consciousness, he leaves the office only to encounter the CIA agents coming up the stairs. He barges past them, jumps into his car and drives off in such a panic that he crashes and ends up in hospital. The authorities refuse to believe his account of events just long enough for the magazine sale to be completed and the two security chiefs to get their money.
In a final chapter, Carter–now recovered – visits the Majorca home of the missing Latimer and discovers that one of the intelligence chiefs had become his neighbor, living in a fine villa, driving a new sports car and accompanied by an attractive young woman. He pieces together what must have happened: over sociable dinks the chief let slip a little too much to Latimer who, with his scholarly and literary skills, began to piece together the true story of “the Intercom conspiracy”. The other intelligence chief, not yet retired and suffering from illness, decides to ‘eliminate’ Latimer. He is never seen again, leaving behind the folder of notes and texts which we have just read.
One of the narrators points out that Switzerland is “infested” with intelligence agents, and is therefore highly sensitive about espionage activities within its borders. (With his characteristic interest in procedures and regulations, Ambler explains the Swiss law against spying and the punishments which breaking it entails.) This works to the conspirators’ advantage, since all levels of Swiss authority are only too keen to hush up the affair–thus ensuring their safe getaway.