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Good Atmosphere, But Plotless
on 25 January 2005
Furst's fourth WWII espionage novel is heavy on atmosphere but virtually plotless, and is disappointingly left to be finished in his next book, Red Gold. All his books feature loner male protagonists, and here the subject is Jean Casson, a midrange French film producer. In his early 40s, Casson is a somewhat hedonistic bon vivant, and as life comes to a momentary standstill during the initial weeks of occupation, he struggles to keep himself fed and clothed. One gets the distinct sense that Casson is supposed to be somewhat emblematic of a certain type or even France, rather than a distinctive character unto himself. A somewhat empty womanizing type, without the courage of any convictions, but with expensive tastes, Casson is recruited to help the resistance. It's a third of the way into the book, by the time this happens though, and-unlike in other of Furst's books-the intelligence aspect never picks up any momentum.
As amateur intelligence operation, Casson is mediocre at best, and it's never really clear why he agrees to help. The perhaps reflects a certain aspect of France at the time, the desire to retain honor, but without having to do too much hard work, or put oneself into too dangerous a situation. At the same time his espionage work starts, he rekindles an old relationship that is perhaps his one true love. This never transcends the generic potboiler romance level, and fails to add any depth to what little story there is. As in all of Furst's writing, the book is rich in detail when in comes to occupied Europe, one really gets the vibe of the cafés, restaurants, and street life in Paris. However, the espionage angle develops rather confusingly and almost randomly, resulting in a rather convoluted anticlimactic finale, which includes a ridiculous escape scene. This weakness is only further exacerbated by the book's abrupt end-why this brief story and Red Gold were split into two books is both annoying a bit of a mystery. The result is that this book is probably the weakest of Furst's espionage oeuvre.