A new historical espionage thriller by Alan Furst is always cause for celebration, and in his eighth novel, the talented writer who's made a particular time and place his own--Europe on the eve of World War II--takes his fortunate readers aboard the tramp ship Noordendam. Its captain, E.M. DeHaan, is recruited by Dutch Naval Intelligence to smuggle arms and spies past the watchful eyes of the German Navy. Like most of Furst's protagonists, DeHaan is at first a reluctant hero, certain that disguising the Noordendam as a Spanish freighter flying the flag of a neutral nation that won't attract the attention of the Nazi authorities will never work. The plot takes DeHaan, his crew and a handful of passengers that include a refugee family, a beautiful woman, and a mysterious Russian through the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and the Baltic. Putting DeHaan ashore in the exotic port cities affords Furst an opportunity to evoke the sights, smells and atmosphere of Alexandria's waterfront alleys, Lisbon's intrigue-filled cafes, and Tangier's shadowy souks, which he does with consummate skill. Maintaining a measured but never lagging pace, Furst takes the Noordendam on its final dangerous voyage past the Baltic Fleet in a tour de force by a writer who's inherited the mantle of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene and wears it as if it had been custom tailored for him. --Jane Adams
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From Publishers Weekly
It's no secret by now that Furst is a superlative chronicler of World War II, and his new novel is a splendid addition to an accomplished body of work that includes The Polish Officer
and the bestselling Blood of Victory
. His mastery of the atmosphere of that era—its brusque heroes and heroines, its sudden explosions of violence, its strange black glamour—is the fruit of tireless research and an empathetic imagination. His hero this time around is a blunt Dutch sea captain, E.M. DeHaan, whose sturdy but aging merchant vessel is pressed into service on behalf of the British Navy by the exiled Dutch naval intelligence group in London. Disguising his boat as a neutral Spanish freighter, DeHaan somberly and grudgingly takes it several times into harm's way, ferrying British commandos on a North African raid, taking munitions to the beleaguered British garrison on Crete and then, most dangerous of all, on a secret mission to Sweden's Baltic coast. The marine details are so authentic the reader can smell the oil and the brine, and the characters who come aboard and into the captain's life—a valuable Polish naval officer in exile, a Jewish refugee who becomes the ship's doctor, a Russian woman journalist fleeing the Soviets, with whom DeHaan enjoys a brief and dry-eyed romance—are sketched with concise brilliance. The book casts such a spell with its exact evocations of time, place and language that one could swear Furst was a Brit writing out of his own experience in 1941 rather than an American writing today.
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