Topkapi (aka The Light of Day) by Eric Ambler, abridged by Nick McCarty

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BBC Radio 4 Extra, 13-20 May 2011
Topkapi is best-known for its film version directed by Jules Dassin in 1964 with Peter Ustinov and Melina Mercouri. Evidently the movie was to have starred Peter Sellers, but Sellers refused to work with Maximilian Schell, whom he claimed had the reputation for being difficult. Ustinov won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, even though he had a starring role.
Set in and around Istanbul in the early 1960s, Topkapi is a crime-caper involving a shady central character, the Anglo-Egyptian Arthur Abdel Simpson, who becomes involved with a multi-national gang of equally shady crooks including Swiss master-criminal Walter Harper, the glamorous Elizabeth Lipp, and a shady Germany aide Fischer. The plot twists and turns, with Simpson emerging unscathed from a series of dangerous situations. Despite his unkempt - and rather down-at-heel - appearance, he has a quick brain as well as the gift of the gab; he can make anyone believe in anything.
David Westhead's reading of the novel appeared to confirm most of the orientalist stereotypes about Istanbul and the Republic of Turkey; it is a mysterious city full of eastern promise, with tourists attracted like flies to the seraglio in the Topkapi Palace; its winding streets are both seductive and dangerous; its people speak with mysterious English accents (more Balkan than Turkish in tone); and its police behave in much the same way as they did in Alan Parker's Midnight Express - they are fat, greasy, moustachioed and sadistic.
As Westhead continued, however, I began to understand that The Light of Day/Topkapi is not really about the Republic of Turkey at all; rather it celebrates Simpson's apparently inexhaustible ability to extricate himself from even the most ticklish situation. He is proud of his British background (insisting frequently that he is "the son of a British officer"), even though he does not have a British passport, but at the same time displays a local cultural knowledge that even the longest-serving British resident in Istanbul would be hard-pressed to match. Simpson is a protean figure, who can readily adapt to any and every cultural context - Turkish, Balkan, British, or whatever.
The reading itself represented a vocal tour de force on Westhead's part, as he played all the roles using a stunning variety of accents. I'd have liked to have heard the Turkish names pronounced properly ("Kosk" is pronounced "Kershk," while the famous aniseed drink should be "rakur" rather than "rakee"). Nonetheless I admired Westhead's ability to sustain listener interest throughout the three-hour reading. The producer was Frank Stirling.