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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.
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 3 days ago by andrewS
In late 1938 France is worried about the Nazis and Chamberlain's infamous Munich deal with Hitler is about to happen. Read morePublished 10 days ago by Suncoast
Could not put it down. Suspenseful. Glad both Stahl and Renate made it out of German clutches.
Recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys Alan Furst
I've read just about everything Furst has written and this one did not disappoint although I knew the protagonist would somehow escape the darkness that fell over Europe.Published 27 days ago by David W. Wilma
Mission to Paris is a fictional spy novel. However, it is based on real historical events in Europe leading up to World War 2. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Lynn Warford
This book delighted me. It is, on the one hand, a just-before-WWII spy novel with traditional Nazi bad guys and femmes fatale, and a protagonist who is clearly a small cog in the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Neurasthenic
I lose again, This Furst installment reads more like a travelogue piece in your local newspaper, hitting all the right famous touristy spots including bars, hotels, parks and... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Tony Gillotte