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on 13 April 2002
Having read "Night Soldiers" and "Dark Star" I leapt upon this novel with a huge amount of anticipation. Usually whenever I do this I am let down in some way, but Mr Furst has that most sought after of qualities in an author: consistency.
The Polish Officer in question is a wonderfully understated character, merely trying to do what's best in a more-than-uncertain world. With his loyalties lying with "a country with a bully for a neighbour" he seeks out the best underground way possible to continue fighting for it, be it against the Russian NKVD or the German Gestapo. We are taken along for the ride across a war-torn Europe, wondering much as he does as to when he is going to be killed, rather than if. He survives long enough for us to empathise with him and his situation. He is like we would be; ordinary but using it to his advantage. He underlines the fact that a James Bond in his situation would be merely a name on a headstone.
This is an excellent spy novel. This is an excellent war-story. But above all it is an excellent tale from an excellent author
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on 20 January 2001
This is the first novel I've read by Alan Furst, and I was pleased to find that the golden opinions which Furst has been winning (comparisons with Le Carre, among others) seem to be justified. He writes unobtrusively well, and the period in which the novel is set offers almost too much material for the thriller writer.
For the English or American reader, life in Occupied Europe from the perspective of those who lived there is still an unfamiliar angle from which to view the Second World War, and I found Furst's treatment a refreshing change from the usual Anglocentric perspective. There are no English or American characters of any significance; instead the focus of interest is upon the emigres and displaced persons, the former military officers and bandits who find themselves more or less willingly drawn into an apparently hopeless resistance to the occupying Nazi and Soviet forces in France, Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. It is a small triumph that Furst makes this unfamiliar material compelling to the English reader.
I would add only one caveat; the author's somewhat curious decision to limit his period of interest to that between roughly 1938 and 1941, (broadly, that in which the Axis powers were most clearly in the ascendant) although defensible in dramatic terms, left this reader at the novel's end with a strong feeling that the whole story had not been told. I understand that Alan Furst's other, and now rather numerous, novels are set in the same period, and one wonders how long it will be before he begins to feel constrained by this self-imposed restriction. Certainly the central character of The Polish Officer is strong enough to justify at least one sequel, and perhaps to set the mind at rest.
It is a measure of the author's success that one badly wants to know for certain that his hero survives the war. I will certainly be seeking out this author's other books, though I will be surprised if they are superior.
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on 8 July 2007
This is my favorite of Alan Furst's books because of the main character and it is one complete story. Some of his books are rather episodic.
'Captain de Milja was a soldier, he knew he didn't have long to live. And, in truth, he didn't care. He was not in love with life. One or two things had to be taken care of, then matters could run their course'.
'De Milja looked to be in his thirties, but there was something about him, some air of authority, that was much older than that ... His face was delicate, arrogant, hard ... in any event, he was a very serious man.'
Like a lot of the author's characters, they seem doomed but do survive or at least, are alive at the end of the book and sometimes make a brief appearance in some of his other books, especially as in 'The Foreign Correspondant'. It would be good to encounter Captain De Milja again.
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on 15 May 2014
The ‘Polish Officer’ follows the fortunes of Captain Alexander de Milja, from the fall of Poland in 1939 when he is recruited into the Polish underground to 1941, when he finds himself fighting alongside the partisans in the forests of the Ukraine. de Milja’s first mission is to take charge of the transportation of Poland’s gold reserves which are hidden on a refugee train heading for Bucharest. He then moves on to Paris just before the occupation, then acted as an intelligence officer before moving on to the Ukraine. There is no doubt that the author has much knowledge of the subject and there were some interesting snippets regarding the intelligence service in Paris and the tactics of the partisans in the Ukrainian forest. In fact there were a lot of good ideas, but far too many to fit into a book of 337 pages. I found that many, but not all the characters in the book were underdeveloped and for the most part the dialoge was just functional. I also felt it wasn’t the most well-paced book I have ever picked up and to me it read like a series of short stories. It’s a shame because I do read a lot of books on the subject of WW2. However, if I read a historical novel I do like the background facts to be right, but I also like it to centre on the characters and the interplay between them: Otherwise I’ll read a factual history book on the subject which I am also happy to do. However, someone who enjoys reading novels where the characters main function is to relay the events to the reader may have a different opinion.
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on 30 January 2010
Furst's books are formulaic in one way -- very few of them tell a story in the conventional sense. They recount contiguous, linked episodes -- extracted from the sequence of the characters lives. Sometimes these are messy, unresolved, not fully explained. They are like life in other words.

What elevates Furst's books in every case though is the quality of the writing. It is so good it puts you there in the story. 'Cinematic' when applied to novels usually implies that the author has written the book with one eye on it being converted into a screenplay, in a way that that cheapens the whole thing, probably. By contrast Furst's novels are cinematic in the very best sense because you can see everything he describes happening vividly -- in the cinema screen in your head.

In this book the scenes are exceptional -- not only can you see what is happening, the writing is so good you can smell what is going on too: the scent of the perfumes and cigars in the night clubs; the hideouts of the partisans; the night-time drive in the battered truck along the frozen river.
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on 7 May 2011
I looked at this book because of the old cliche - judging a book by its cover but when I read the blurb I was really drawn in. How glad I am that I bought the book. This book got right into the phsyche of both the spy and the Pole. As someone of Polish origin I can say that Furst captures the essence of the Polish mind set perfectly - that curious mixture of pragmatism and romanticism. The story follows the life of the Polish officer just before and during the war years. What I loved about it was the fact that it made the reader feel the transitory nature of the lives of such people - and there must have been many of them - unsung and unappreciated heroes. I like the way things are mentioned which should engender stories in themselves but they are just a fleeting moment in Captain de Milja's life and remain as such. What a great story.
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on 13 February 2011
"The Polish Officer" relates the first two years of the Second World War via the life and activities of the eponymous hero, an officer in the Polish Military Intelligence. The action moves from Warsaw in the early days of the war, across to Paris and back again eastwards in the Autumn of 1941 as the Germans were invading Russia.

This is an interestingly written book in that it does not tell a story in the classic sense, with a beginning, middle and end, but rather relates a series of incidents in chronological order as Captain de Milja is sent on various missions. In this sense, it has more of the feel of a documentary or biography rather than a classic thriller. The author has a real talent for evoking atmosphere - the reader is transported to the frozen forest, the smoky nightclub, the nighttime docks.

While I enjoyed the book, I found one of two of the writer's stylistic devices rather annoying - the dropping of pronouns, for example, although this is a question of personal taste. In addition, I felt that we didn't really get quite enough insight into de Milja's thoughts and motivations - everything is treated in a very matter-of-fact way, which I suppose people did in that situation in order to survive. But I did miss the emotional depth somewhat.

Overall, a good book about aspects of the Second World War that may not be so familiar to a UK reader.
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on 13 December 2014
This story gives us a really good insight into how Poland and the Polish had to deal not only with the Nazi Germany invasion but also how they dealt with being ignored, let down and forgotten by many other countries. While some posted made-up propaganda posters about imminent rescue by the allies, others learnt to accept the inevitable.
The Polish Officer worked with a group of other clever, well-bred men to start with, defending a telephone exchange that had already been cut off. The futility of it was the overall impression this story gave us as to how a small group of determined and courageous people tried against so many odds to do the right thing. The enemy was not just the Germans but the disillusioned civilians in all the occupied countries too.
If a little too 'American' in its narrative at times for the era it was portraying ('right now' being the most annoying of the phrases), the story's unromantic and realistic approach to the situation was commanding.
Incredibly sad moments include the officer's wife and her tragic life as well as the radio operator's heroism in France; all those brave souls who did so much good in miniature against the huge, evil of Nazi Germany and the enemies within.
I strongly recommend this book.
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on 18 June 2012
Alan Furst writes evocative and convincing spy stories set in World War Two Europe. Furst is definitely more in the stable of John Le Carré and Philip Kerr than Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy. If you enjoy Le Carré and Philip Kerr, I'm 99% certain you'll be glad you picked this up.

The story follows the life of Polish Captain Alexander de Milja from the German invasion of Poland through his escape to Romania, then to Paris. The Germans then conquer France and life becomes increasingly hazardous for Polish refugees. Furst paints with a realistic brush. His books show a microcosm of a vast war, with both characters and plots deliberately left incomplete. Just like in real life, you never fully know another person - there are always tantalising glimpses of the unknown and questions that remain unanswered. Despite, or maybe because of this, `The Polish Officer' is a very satisfying read. Good characters, great wartime atmosphere and solid, well-researched storyline. It comes over as part of a greater work, which I certainly hope is the case. A very solid four stars.
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on 19 May 2013
Let me start by saying one thing. Any novel by Alan Furst is worth reading, not just because they work as thrillers, but also because they also reflect the history of their times.

'The Polish Officer' is not only an excellent read in its own right. It is a tribute to the wartime Polish resistance, and their contribution to the fight against Nazism - a contribution which the Soviets and their apologists have tried to airbrush from history. It is a powerful novel which skilfully portrays the plight of a country caught between Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR, but which is also in its own way uplifting. I will say no more other than if you want a thriller that grips you, educates you, and makes you think, this is well worth a purchase.
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