21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A friend of mine in London recently asked for a suggestion about a good book to read on the night train from Munich to Prague. I immediately recommended Alan Furst's King of Shadows, which opens on the night train from Budapest to Paris. An Alan Furst novel is often the answer to a request for a `good read'.
Furst comes from a line of writers whose literary lineage 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 and post-World War II Europe. Foreign Correspondent opens in Civil War Spain but quickly moves to pre-war Paris. Italian journalist Carlo Weisz, a refugee from Mussolini's fascist Italy living in Paris, is part of a group of Italian expatriates who print a dissident newspaper, Liberazione, and smuggle it into Italy. The Italian secret police, the OVRA, has infiltrated the group. One of its members has been murdered and each member of the group is feeling the effects of the OVRA turning the screws on their operations. At the same time Weisz' day job as a foreign correspondent for Reuters takes him back and forth to the Berlin of Hitler, Himmler, and Goring. It is in Berlin that Weisz reunites with and reignites his affair with Christa von Schirren. Along the way Weisz comes to the attention of and is recruited by British Intelligence. The plot outline is simple: will Weisz and his cell continue to publish Liberazione and will Weisz be able to get Christa out of Berlin before the war that everyone knows is coming closes all borders.
Furst's strong point has always been how he sets the scene. His atmospherics are tremendous. His descriptions of the streets of Berlin or Paris or Barcelona and the atmosphere of those cities reek of authenticity. Similarly, Furst has a keen eye for the inner life of his protagonists. Almost invariably Furst manages to convey a real sense of how those protagonists think and feel. Both of these elements of his writing generally dominate his plotting and are primarily responsible for getting the reader to turn to the next page. This is certainly the case with Foreign Correspondent. The plot itself is not complex and it did not leave me wondering what was going to happen next. Similarly, the book did not really build to a real climax. The book ended more with a sigh than with a bang. Some may find that a bit disappointing. However, as readers of Furst's books already know his novels strive for authenticity. In much of life, particularly in the era Furst writes about, storybook endings or dramatic endings are more the exception than the rule. However, despite being aware of this I think the ending was more than a bit anti-climactic and more so than in some of his other novels.
All in all, and as the title of the review suggests, despite some weakness in plotting (in my opinion) Foreign Correspondent will make for a satisfying read for a long, lazy summer day or a freezing winter night.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2007
Maybe it's me. I've read all of Furst's novels in this loose "series", and I'm a big fan. But either I'm getting bored with the style, or he's treading water.
This certainly isn't a bad book. And there's nohing wrong with taking a "low key" approach to the 30s/40s espionage genre - but the Graham Greene comparisons are way off the mark. Compared to his earlier works, I'm afraid this is "Furst by numbers". All the usual elements are there: the jaded but honest protagonist, the potentially doomed love affair, the "night and fog" locations, and a few of the "occasional" characters from the earlier books.
But it just never quite catches fire. Sad to say, I could easily have put this book down a few pages before the end, with no burning desire to finish it. And that's something I never thought I'd say about an Alan Furst novel. I'll still await his next book with anticipation, because I know what he's capable of - but I think he needs to re-read "The Polish Officer" or "Dark Star" as a reminder of how it should be done.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed it - having been recommended him by friends I trust. This was the first volume to hand in a bookshop so bought it without knowing anything about it. Was immediately swept into the murk and dinge of pre-war Paris - which was excellent. He seems to have lost his faith in main verbs, but this was gradually restored as the book went on (or is that my imagination?) - it took a bit of time to get into the style - but it's staccato writing certainly helped to conjure up the nervousness and insecurity of living in a world gone mad and overshadowed by war.
For all the suspense and evocation of the book, which i loved (Furst is clearly a very descriptive, poetic even, writer), i couldn't help feeling a little disappointed by the conclusion. I kept wondering how he was going to pull it off as i ran out of pages and so knew the end had to be coming somehow. Kolb's Berlin visit only takes a few pages, and Weisz's final journey (please note care with which i try to avoid plot spoiling) is also rushed. He suddenly arrives - and book ends. Ho hum.
But then i suppose this is a love story not a John Le Carre - and that is sort of the point, i guess. It is humanity and relationships that are the most valuable treasure to protect to in wartime. I have to agree. It's just that i would have greatly enjoyed further descriptions by Furst of how to reach this conclusion. But then, if one is begging an author for more, then this presumably means he has done his job pretty well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2007
Having discovered Furst this summer, I have been enjoying going through the catalogue. What I really enjoy about Furst's work is how it makes me think again about the tragic history of Europe in the 20th century and unimaginably horrific events within living memory in ostensibly civilised societies. His work makes me feel lucky to be living in this era - which is strange in itself. This is somehow less intense than the novels set in eastern Europe but Furst shines a soft torchlight on the era gently unfolding an ostensibly simple plot using a fascinating blend of characters. A pervasive theme in his work is the characters' lack of awareness of the true extent of the horrors that are going to engulf Europe - it gives the reader a range of new perspectives on our common (European) history. My niggling reservation about this novel (similar to his other books) is the ending.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2006
My mother recommended Furst's books to me and I hugely enjoyed his dark journeys through the underbelly of a Europe descending inexorably into chaos and war. His characters are always well drawn, rounded, flawed but engaging and his descriptions of pre-war Paris, in particular, make the city sound even more seductive than the modern reality. He creates intriguing plots without being unnecessarily convoluted and he has a great eye for period and place. What concerns me, though, with his more recent offerings, and, sadly, the 'The Foreign Correspondent' is no exception, is that he seems to lose interest (faith?) in his story as the climax approaches. Here, he painstakingly re-creates the mood of panic and paranoia amongst a group of Italian emigre resisters of the Fascist Italian regime over 200 and odd pages and then the strangely anti-climactic denouement hurries and scurries past in something of a blur leaving one strangely unsatisfied. Make no mistake I enjoyed the book but I felt slightly cheated at the end by a feeling that Furst had something rather more important to do than sustain the tension and pace of the book right to the end. Some plot lines were too easily and simply tied into convenient little knots whilst others were left lying around loose with barely a second thought. A great shame but, no matter, I will certainly buy his next one, if only for the first two-thirds of it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2006
I have had this book reserved for me by my local library since the summer and couldn't wait to get it home and read it. It's a little shorter than some of his other novels - I finished it over a weekend. However, Mr Furst doesn't dissapoint. Again we meet more shadowy figures in a simmering Europe about to boil over into the second WW. This novel concerns the Italian journalist-turned-spy Carlo Weisz, based in Paris, and his attempt to help undermine Mussolini's fascist regime. I enjoy his evocative descriptions of the demi-monde, the smoky little cafes, the once-upon-a-time grand apartments, the secret meetings in dark back alleys that lead who knows where. I also like his style of writing, everthing is succinct, crisp and to the point.
A nice touch is that characters from his other novels make brief appearances in "FC." Count Polanyi, the mysterious S.Kolb, Fischfang the movie director. The Brasserie Heininger appears to be a popular meeting place in many of his novels. I like this - how the work of one spy is actually part of a big network.
I preferred his previous novels "The Polish Officer" and the Jean Casson books. That is because they were a little longer, a little meatier. But this was still a very enjoyable book. I envy anyone who has just discovered Mr Furst, if you enjoy spy thrillers from this era you are in for a treat.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Alan Furst's stories are thrillers with a small t. They grab and pull you along, but the storytelling is subtle and deep, avoiding melodrama and high tension plotting that often characterise capital T thrillers. They are sumptuous meals of carefully blended tastes, rather than the zip of junk food. And so it is with The Foreign Correspondent. As with all Furst novels, the prose is excellent, the narrative is well structured and textured, and his characters are complex, living multi-dimensional lives that are filled with difficult choices, conflicting emotions, contradictions, and doubts. In particular, Furst is very good at conveying a scene with few words, conjuring a mood, atmosphere, a sense of place or a character in a few sentences; at historically contextualizing the story, and at effortlessly working across scales - small lives and how they fit into a continental landscape of political turmoil. The result is a well told, multi-layered story that hooks you in early and makes you care about the characters and the politics, and at the end leaves you sated and looking forward to next meal at a Michelin starred restaurant. (I'm aware that one of the criticisms of Furst is that his stories have open or ambiguous endings, but for me that's a plus - I'm tired of nice, neat endings that rarely happen in real life).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2007
Paris in 1939 with the distinct signs of the hurricane of war just beginning to blow, and a group of Italian exiles contribute to the struggle by producing Liberazione[itals], an anti-fascist newspaper that is smuggled into Italy. The problem is that Mussolini's secret police are also active in Paris, and have assassinated the editor. Reluctantly, Reuters foreign correspondent Carlo Weisz takes over the chair, even though his real focus is on Christa, the love of his life, who is getting herself involved in very dangerous anti-Nazi espionage in Berlin. This is the kind of literate and erudite writing we have come to expect from Alan Furst, who gives us an object lesson on how a quiet, beautifully written spy thriller can be just as gripping as anything in which bombs and bullets fly. Carlo and his associates become drawn deeper and deeper into the world of spying, deception and, of course, betrayal. With Christa in terrible danger, Carlo agrees to undertake a perilous mission to Italy on condition that the British SIS get her out of Berlin before she disappears into Hitler's nacht und nebel, the night and fog of Nazi Germany. Excellent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2012
The book opens, as does Eric Ambler's Cause For Alarm, with an assassination carried out by Italian Fascists (OVRA), although you have to say the earlier writer does it with a lot more panache and with plenty of Hammer-horror-style fog to heighten the atmosphere. However, don't despair, because Furst soon has you twitching on his authorial strings as a coterie of Paris-based anti-Mussolini dissidents is beset on all sides by various goons from various intelligence services and the fingernail-chewing quotient is upped judiciously as the tale unfolds. A predictable problem, for a 21st century writer, is that Furst has obviously been told by his editorial team to whack in some sex scenes at regular intervals and, as ever with this well-covered area of human activity when it is described in words, banality sets like raspberry jelly by the first twanged garter. His characters are also thinly sketched but then you don't get the insight of Proust or Henry James in Ian Fleming either (and neither do you want it). Also, I just love restaurant, cafe and bar-set hiatuses (as did Ambler and as does Robert Goddard) and this has enough of them, with plenty of decent wine (Eschezaux, Barolo, Chianti, etc.) to gladden the discerning tippler's heart. It's my first Furst and I've had a ball. You will too. Treat yourself!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2007
Having read an Alan Furst book for the first time, I check up and notice he has quite a reputation. A great storyteller, say critics writing in prestigious publications. Can't argue with that. The Foreign Correspondent carries the reader easily along, augments temperature, pace and complications at just the right cadence, gradually fits the jigsaw pieces together and ends with a satisfying climax.
A great evoker of historical time and place, the critics add. In this case, it's pre-World War II Europe, full of menace and about to explode. Furst specializes in re-creating myriads of cultural microcosms - for example his fascinating description of left-wing Genoese food market stallholders dealing with an unwelcome intrusion by Fascist police. Where on earth did to find out what it was like, just there, just then?
So often he excels himself, but occasionally these cultural tours de force are mildly suspect. His hero comes from Trieste: part Italian, part Slovene. A multi-cultural mix perfectly suited for his theme, with the Slovene component presumably intended to add Balkan zest. However the Slovenes I know are down-to-earth, pragmatic, low-key and somewhat unsophisticated. None of these traits appear in the hero. He is not Slovene.
The Reuters he portrays is leisurely in its work ethic and run by directors who are hand in glove with British Intelligence. I sweated blood and tears as a foreign correspondent for this agency for 18 years, including in Cold War Eastern Europe and the Portuguese Revolution, and I never felt the breath of British Intelligence down my neck once. My managers were so intensely independent, they were at times frankly anti-British.
OK, OK, calm down: it's fiction -- and a great read. Thank you Alan Furst. I wish I could write as well.
Marcus Ferrar [...]