When Josef Vadassy arrives at the Hotel de la Reserve at the end of his Riviera holiday, he is simply looking forward to a few more days of relaxation before returning to Paris. But in St. Gatien, on the eve of World War II, everyone is suspect-the American brother and sister, the expatriate Brits, and the German gentleman traveling under at least one assumed name. When the film he drops off at the chemist reveals photographs he has not taken, Vadassy finds himself the object of intense suspicion. The result is anything but the rest he had been hoping for.
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February 04, 2002
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Excerpt from Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler
1 I arrived in St. Gatien from Nice on Tuesday, the 14th of August. I was arrested at 11.45 a.m. on Thursday, the 16th, by an agent de police and an inspector in plain clothes and taken to the Commissariat. For several kilometers on the way from Toulon to La Ciotat the railway runs very near to the coast. As the train rushes between the innumerable short tunnels through which this section of the line has been built, you catch quick glimpses of the sea below, dazzlingly blue, of red rocks, of white houses among pine woods. It is as if you were watching a magic-lantern show with highly colored slides and an impatient operator. The eye has no time to absorb details. Even if you know of St. Gatien and are looking for it, you can see nothing of it but the bright red roof and the pale yellow stucco walls of the Hotel de la Reserve. The hotel stands on the highest point of the headland and the terrace runs along the south side of the building. Beyond the terrace there is a sheer drop of about fifteen meters. The branches of pines growing below brush the pillars of the balustrade. But farther out towards the point the level rises again. There are gashes of red rock in the dry green scrub. A few windswept tamarisks wave their tortured branches in silhouette against the intense ultramarine blue of the sea. Occasionally a white cloud of spray starts up from the rocks below. The village of St. Gatien sprawls in the lee of the small headland on which the hotel stands. The walls of the houses are, like those of most other Mediterranean fishing villages, coated with either white, egg-shell blue, or rose-pink washes. Rocky heights, whose pine-clad slopes meet the seashore on the opposite side of the bay, shelter the miniature harbor from the mistral that sometimes blows strongly from the northwest. The population is seven hundred and forty-three. The majority depend for their livelihoods on fishing. There are two cafes, three bistros, seven shops and, farther round the bay, a police station. But, from the end of the terrace where I was sitting that morning the village and the police station were out of sight. The day was already warm and the cicadas were droning in the terraced gardens at the side of the hotel. By moving my head slightly I could see, through the balustrade, the small Reserve bathing beach. Two large colored sunshades were planted in the sand. From under one of them two pairs of legs protruded, a woman's and a man's. They looked young and very brown. A faint murmur of voices told me that there were other guests out of sight in the shady part of the beach. The gardener, his head and shoulders sheltered from the sun by a huge straw hat, was painting a blue band round the gunwale of an upturned dinghy resting on trestles. A motorboat was coming round the headland on the far side of the bay and making for the beach. As it came nearer, I could distinguish the thin, lanky figure of Koche, the manager of the Reserve, drooping over the tiller. The other man in the boat was one of the fishermen from the village. They would have been out since dawn. Maybe we should have red mullet for lunch. Out at sea a Nederland-Lloyd liner moved on its way from Marseilles to Villefranche. It was all very good and peaceful. I was thinking that tomorrow night I would have to pack my suitcase and that early Saturday morning I would have to go by bus into Toulon and catch the train for Paris. The train would be near Arles in the heat of the day, my body would stick to the hard leather seats of the third-class compartment, and there would be a layer of dust and soot over everything. I would be tired and thirsty by the time we reached Dijon. I must remember to take a bottle of water with me, with, perhaps, a little wine in it. I would be glad to get to Paris. But not for long. There would be the walk from the platforms of the Gare de Lyon to the platforms of the Metro. My suitcase would be heavy by then. Direction