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Mission to Paris: A Novel Paperback – June 4, 2013
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“FitzSimmons has come up with a doozy of a sociopath.” —The Washington Post Learn More
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Justin Cronin is the New York Times bestselling author of The Passage, Mary and O’Neil (which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize), and The Summer Guest. Other honors for his writing include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Whiting Writers’ Award. A Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Rice University, he divides his time between Houston, Texas, and Cape Code, Massachusetts.
Fans of Alan Furst are a passionate lot, and I count myself among them. Put a group of Furst’s readers in a room, and before long they will be ardently advocating for their favorites (I always come out swinging for The World at Night), only to change their minds, and change them again, as they are reminded of an especially harrowing episode in The Polish Officer, or a perfect turn of phrase in Blood of Victory, or a sumptuous love scene in The Spies of Warsaw.
So which of Furst’s novels is his best? In my opinion, it’s an eleven-way tie.
Now, make that twelve.
Furst’s elegant thrillers of World War II Europe are often grouped with the works Graham Greene and John le Carre for the literary quality of his prose. The comparison is apt, but Furst is really one of a kind: a novelist whose body of work has recast his genre, elevating it to the level of literature. He has a way of getting everything right, putting every sentence to flawless use with a compact, suggestive style. In just a few brush strokes, Furst can capture the essence of a character—man or woman, friend or foe, Gestapo officer or society doyenne—and his ability to evoke a setting makes me weep with envy. Furst’s foggy Paris streets and glittering salons aren’t just places we see; we actually seem to visit them, bathing in their rich atmospheres. When a Furst character steps into a café in the 16th Arrondissment, you can practically smell the Gauloises smoke wafting from the pages.
But what truly sets Furst apart is his characters’ alignment with their circumstances. Like every great novelist, he understands that history is an overlay of private lives and public events, and therein lies the richest, most morally edifying human drama. Furst’s protagonists aren’t professional spies. Dashing, yes. Romantic, to be sure. Capable of the bon mot, without doubt. But in their hearts, they are men and women like the rest of us, adrift in the currents of their lives. It’s the exigencies of war, with all its political murk and unlikely gunpoint bedfellows, that ignite them to personal heroism. You can hear them saying, with existential fatalism, “Well, it’s been a marvelous life—wonderful food, sumptuous parties, and surprising nights of love—but I guess it’s over now. I’ll have to become something more. Count me in.”
Mission to Paris is trademark Furst, a book not merely to read but to luxuriate in. Vienna-born Fredric Stahl, nee Franz Stalka, is a Hollywood actor of modest renown sent to Paris to star in a French movie named, ironically, “Apres la Guerre” (“After the War”). The year is 1938; Hitler has just taken Czechoslovakia and set his sights on Poland. With his American connections, high profile, and Germanic ancestry, Stahl attracts the interest of the political arm of the Reich’s Foreign Ministry; their goal is to manipulate him into making a public declaration against French rearmament. Initially, all Stahl wants to do is enjoy his time in Paris, where fond memories and sensual adventures await, and finish his film, for which he has high hopes. But he can’t stay on the sidelines for long; the next thing he knows, he’s flying to Berlin to judge a film festival of nakedly propagandist “mountain movies,” with stacks of Swiss francs stuffed inside his suit to purchase Nazi secrets. The night he meets his contact—the glamorous Russian actress Olga Orlova, who proves surprisingly adept with a silencer—Stahl awakens to the smell of smoke and the sound of shattering glass: beyond the windows of his hotel room, Kristallnacht is in full swing.
What happens then? Please. I’ve said too much as it is.
Suffice to say that for Furst’s legion of the obsessed, the novel is everything we crave and more. And for newcomers—why there should still be any, I simply don’t know—it’s certain to send them back into his rich body of work, hungry for more.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
—The New York Times Book Review
“Alan Furst again shows why he is a grandmaster of the historical espionage genre. Furst not only vividly re-creates the excitement and growing gloom of the City of Light in 1938-39, as war with Nazi Germany looms, but also demonstrates a profound knowledge of the political divisions and cultural sensibilities of that bygone era … As summer or subway reading goes, it doesn't get more action-packed and grippingly atmospheric than this.”
—The Boston Globe
“Between them, Fredric and Paris make this a book no reader will put down to the final page. Furst evokes the city and the prewar anxiety with exquisite tension that is only a bit relieved by Fredric’s encounters with several women, each a vivid and attractive character. Critics compare Furst to Graham Greene and John le Carré, but the time has come for this much-published author (this is his ninth World War II novel after Spies of the Balkans) to occupy his own pinnacle as a master of historical espionage.”
—Library Journal (starred)
“Furst conveys a strong sense of the era, when responding to a knock might open the door to the end of one’s days. The novel recalls a time when black and white applied to both movies and moral choices. It’s a tale with wide appeal.”
“[Furst] is most at home in Paris, which is why legions of his fans, upon seeing only the title of his latest book, will immediately feel pulses quicken … Furst has been doing this and doing it superbly for a long time now … Long ago Furst made the jump from genre favorite to mainstream bestsellerdom; returning to his signature setting, Paris, he only stands to climb higher.”
“Alan Furst’s writing reminds me of a swim in perfect water on a perfect day, fluid and exquisite. One wants the feeling to go on forever, the book to never end … Like Graham Greene, Furst creates believable characters caught up, with varying degrees of willingness, in the parade of political life. And because they care, the reader does, too … Furst is one of the finest spy novelists working today, and, from boudoir to the beach, Mission to Paris is perfect summer reading.”
“The writing in Mission to Paris, sentence after sentence, page after page, is dazzling. If you are a John le Carré fan, this is definitely a novel for you.”
"I am a huge fan of Alan Furst. Furst is the best in the business--the most talented espionage novelist of our generation."
“Reading Mission to Paris is like sipping a fine Chateau Margaux: Sublime!”
From the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
More specifically, the focus of "Mission..." is film actor Fredric Stahl, an Austrian-born emigre who has built a successful career in Hollywood and finds himself, in mid-1938, loaned out by his studio to a French film company to star in a "Beau Geste" kind of flick that ironically is a commentary on the tragedies of war. Arriving in Paris, Stahl soon finds himself the center of attention for a group of German sympathizers bent on keeping France from opposing Hitler's ambitions in Europe. Stahl's own nascent political views are very much in the other direction and he is gradually dragged into a propaganda war that is heating up in Paris and elsewhere. All of this happens, while he undertakes the demanding work of making the film, "Apres La Guerre". Eventually, and very much against his own will and inclination, Stahl's position as a highly visible public figure leads to increasingly dangerous involvement with the Nazis.
While "Mission to Paris" is a good read, I found it to have less edge and dynamic tension than most of its predecessors. The protagonist, for example, is a decent and interesting guy, but doesn't come across as the brightest bulb in the chandelier at times.Read more ›
Fredric Stahl, hero of this one, is a little different from Furst's usual military men and cops. He's a celebrity, a Hollywood star, an Austrian-born leading man now in Paris to make a movie, loaned by Warner Brothers to Paramount in return for Gary Cooper. Stahl recalls the carefree Paris of the 1920s, where he first got into film, but now wonders how wise it is to visit the Paris of 1938.
Now there's foreboding of war: Hitler has demanded and got Czechoslovakia, and some, but not enough, see the Anglo-French appeasement will merely encourage a bully who feeds on fear. The French call up the reserves, then let them go, but the crisis puts everyone's nerves on edge.
Not everyone thinks war is inevitable. But the parties wanting to avoid it at any cost, the Franco-German friendship types, the war-is-too-terrible-and-we-must-never-fight-another types - are, rather than the usual left-wing pacifists, all directed and funded by Berlin. Publishers are being paid off to manipulate French public opinion. Pro-fascist French industrialists are in on it. And wouldn't this cabal love to have the movie star Stahl come out against war?
Stahl is first cultivated, then stalked by friends of the Reich. Then an American consul asks if Stahl can help his adopted homeland. Stahl wants nothing to do with the Nazis, but realizes it's time to make a stand, and the way he can help is by acting - going along with them, acting like he doesn't mind to carry out a secret mission. Meanwhile, though, his film friends wonder which side he's really on.Read more ›
Furst comes from a line of writers that can be traced back to both Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. Like Ambler, Furst often takes an unassuming, or unwitting civilian and immerses him in a world of mystery and intrigue in pre-World War II Europe. Mission to Paris follows this format and Furst does it in such a masterful way that I think it fair to say that Furst truly is worthy of the comparison to Ambler. He stands on his own now and really does not need to be compared to anyone to establish his bona fides.
Mission to Paris is set (as the title suggests) in Paris with side-trips to Berlin, Morocco, and Hungary. The unwitting protagonist is one Fredric Stahl. Born in Austria, Stahl made his way to California as a young man and is now one of Hollywood's leading men. He is sent to Paris by his studio head Jack Warner to do a movie with an international cast. The German foreign ministry has decided that Stahl should be enlisted to aid them in their cause and that sets up the story to follow.
I think it unwise to get into plot details so I'll simply state that Furst's strong point has always been how he sets the scene. His descriptions of the streets of Paris and Berlin reek of authenticity.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great historical perspective filled with drama. Makes the reader feel as though the reader is alive during the actual war.Published 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
Was able to better appreciate The World That Was Yesterday by S Zweig after reading A Furst's Mission to Paris. Both great reads and just as good when read again.Published 12 days ago by Vytautas Butrimas
Not as riveting as other Furst novels, and the ending I found to be somewhat abrupt considering all the events leading up to the denouement.Published 1 month ago by Azim
Alan Furst again does an excellent job of painting pre-WWII Europe. Interesting characters are presented against the backdrop of the dark time just before the war.Published 2 months ago by Phil
Reading this book really provides a sense of the insipid way the war and all the territorial implications affect lives that have no association with military. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Sheela Stuart
I enjoyed this book as I do all of Alan Furst's books - a great readPublished 4 months ago by Robert Caul
I felt like the protagonist was cluelessly rambling around in this book and the plot was a string of events happening to him rather than him making any decisions to drive a... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Half Human This Time
When I read the synopsis I wondered whether Furst was might be running out of steam and that this would be a bit of a let down. It wasn't at all. Read morePublished 6 months ago by andrewS