Penzler Pick, January 2001: The thrillers of Alan Furst usually take place in the dark days preceding World War II, but while the main participants in that war are of course portrayed, Britain, France, Germany, and the United States do not usually star in Furst's novels. He prefers instead to focus his stories on the citizens of those countries whose allegiances and roles in that particular theater of operations are much more contradictory and conflicted.
Kingdom of Shadows is set in Paris during 1938 and 1939. It is unclear at that time what the fate of Hungary will be if Hitler has his way, but a small group of expatriates would like to insure that events turn out in their country's favor. Nicholas Morath is an Hungarian aristocrat who fought bravely in the Great War. He is now part owner of an advertising agency in Paris, while his uncle, Count Janos Polanyi, is a minor diplomat stationed in Paris. Polanyi calls on Nicholas to take part in missions against the Hungarian Fascists: carrying letters or bringing individuals back across the border in the course of his business trips.
As Nicholas's dinner parties, business deals, and dalliances with his mistress start to take a back seat to the escalating crisis in Europe, his tasks become more complicated, dangerous, and bewildering to him. He knows far less than the reader, who understands that his actions will have far-reaching consequences even beyond the fate of Hungary. Nicholas just does what he can without the luxury of historic hindsight.
Furst has fashioned here an elegant gem that vividly portrays the city of Paris during the last peaceful days of 1938 and the menace of Hitler's ambitions in the Sudetenland and beyond. Nicholas Morath is a charismatic and sympathetic figure who will come to understand, as the war progresses, the consequences, both good and bad, of his smallest actions during that turbulent time. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
The desperation of "stateless" people trying to escape the Nazi redrawing of the European map in the late 1930s pervades Furst's (Night Soldiers; Red Gold, etc.) marvelous sixth espionage thriller. On a rainy night in 1938, the train from Budapest pulls into Paris bearing Nicholas Morath, a playboy Hungarian expatriate and sometime spy for his uncle, a wealthy Hungarian diplomat based in the French capital. Morath, a veteran hero of the Great War and a Parisian for many years, now finds himself forced to rely on former enemies to try to rescue Eastern European fugitives displaced by Hitler's aggression. His eclectic circle includes a Russian gangster, a pair of destitute but affable near-tramps, and a smooth-talking SS officer. Smuggling forged passports, military intelligence documents and cash through imminent war zones, Morath time and again returns in thankless triumph to the glittering salons of Paris. Furst expertly weaves Morath's apparently unconnected assignments into the web of a crucial 11th-hour international conspiracy to topple Hitler before all-out war engulfs Europe again, counterbalancing scenes of fascist-inspired chaos with the sounds, smells and anxieties of a world dancing on the edge of apocalypse. The novel is more than just a cloak-and-dagger thrill ride; it is a time machine, transporting readers directly into the dread period just before Europe plunged into its great Wagnerian g tterd mmerung. This is Furst's best book since The Polish Officer, and in it he proves himself once again a master of literary espionage. (Jan. 19)
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