What pleasurable admiration one derives from the fact that in an age, and an area, where most writers become burnt-out cases, Eric Ambler--who after his classic beginnings and less remarkable middle years and books--is now getting better and best. Burnt-out cases is a deliberately chosen term since this new novel takes place in Graham Greene-land--one of those desolate little Central American coffee republics where even the palm trees are ""like tired, untidy women."" Here Dr. Frigo (which means frozen meat) assumes an uncommitted, spectator stance after the assassination of his father (was he a real liberator or just an opportunist?) twelve years before, ignoring his mother's treason theory and her desire to have Ernesto (his given name) as an avenger. But he just goes about his doctoring and has an affair with one of the most charming creatures met in a long time--Elizabeth, an artist, also a Hapsburg of direct descent six times removed from the Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria, Elizabeth who makes unsettling insinuations and only too direct historical referrals to the Hapsburg past which might be pertinent now. Particularly since Ernesto is asked, forcibly, to attend Villegas, his father's successor and candidate for a new takeover backed by international off-shore oil interests. But apparently there is something very wrong with his patient, more than his ""abdominal inconveniences""--there's his slurred speech which when finally diagnosed makes the whole matter one of the greatest confidentiality. And Ernesto is obliged to continue at the failing arm's length of his patient all through the grand deception, the chaotic coup (even if a fait accompli before it was started) and assassination. Thus we have a parapolitical thriller in which Ambler is only too aware of the pragmatic complexity of a submerged part of the world where the returns are great for a few--but then no ""government can do things for people without doing things to them."" Ambler's entertainment--and surely it is more than that--is urbane, amusing, cautionary and threateningly urgent at all times--in a word, masterful.