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3.9 out of 5 stars31
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 24 May 2006
There is something true in saying that all of Furst books are similar, but then again they serve their purpose (high quality entertainment, not literary masterpiece) so well that one does not really mind. In this type of literature, as in Le Carré, one prefers sustained quality rather than novelty. However Dark Star and Night Soldiers differ from the others in that they have some very itneresting historical comments to make. There are two pages in Dark Star where the author goes through the purging of jews from the soviet communist party that are very interesting; how the party went from having a huge jewish presence ("We were in the paradise businnes" as General Bloch, s beautifully penned character, says) to almost none after Stalin took control of things. It is in inserting considerations of these kind (certainly not original) that makes Furst's first books so interesting.
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on 23 July 1999
Furst is a revelation. He writes leagues ahead of Le Carre, Deighton et al. Furst combines the eloquent first person observations of Deighton's Bernard Sampson and the unrelenting intelligence of Le Carre's George Smiley.
Dark Star is set in pre-war Paris, a Soviet journalist (Andre Szara) fights to stay alive caught between the approaching menace of Nazi Germany and the ruthless savagery of the NKVD. The oppressive atmosphere of uncertainty can almost be felt like a breath of fetid air as you open the book and remains convincing throughout as Furst resists applying the wisdom of hindsight - Szara knows war will happen, but when? It seems certain that Hitler must fight, but who as alliances are shifting and often meaningless?
Szara's efforts to cling to a life (any life) are further complicated as he is used by warring factions in the NKVD who view Szara's inevitable death as an acceptable write off. Szara's friend consoles him with "In [any] work there is competition, alliance, betrayal. Unhappily when an intelligence apparat plays these games, they are equipped with very sharp tools ....... and the level of play can be frightful. A journalist .... will simply be eaten alive."
A man driven by love, anger and desire, trying to survive in a world between competing ideologies that have a savage and feral momentum.
"You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you" (Leon Trotsky) best seems to summarise Szara's quiet terror and the reader's compulsion to read on.
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on 21 March 2002
The woeful tale of Szara, the Polish/Russian journalist, trapped in the intrigues of the intelligence services of Europe prior to WWII is gripping. We feel an imediate empathy with the character as he tries to make sense of the nonsensical, dodging the bullets as he goes.
There is a marvellous Flashman-esque element to this story, wherein the author lands his main character into the most improbable, historically important events leading up to the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Russia. How he remains alive is of as much a mystery to him as to us, as he is hunted by the world's most devious men. Yet, there is a thin thread of possibility that it may have been possible for him to do so.
It is this thread that pulls us as readers from one unlikely scenario to another as he cheats death time and again. And before you know it you have been convinced that the parallel lives of Stalin and Hitler were inevitable through fate.
I recommend this book to all who enjoy the suspension of reality, with a tinge of historical activity to spice it all up.
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on 31 August 2007
My first 'Alan Furst' and there will be more. Really enjoyed this novel. With complex characters, interesting plot and ambitious but fairly convincing insights into the history of the 1930s, it is difficult to fault. But I have some reservations - the ending/denouement felt a bit rushed and contrived - all a bit too 'happily ever after' considering the darkness of the subject matter.
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on 26 March 2013
Alan Furst always intrigues with his multi layed plots.
The 1938 background is the outline for the outbreak of world war 2
The subtle character images are gripping
If you like spy stories this is a must.
But russian spies will always be a mystery.That is why we buy them
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on 5 August 2013
A brilliantly written book which engagingly captures the spirit and emotions of the pre-war years .A superbly entertaining novel which I would unhesitatingly recommend.
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on 31 August 2014
Having watched the " Spys of Warsaw" mini-series on BBC TV I was hooked on Alan Furst's writing and had to read his work. So far I have read Dark Star and The Polish Officer and enjoyed both from beginning to end. The hero of Dark Star isn't a clean cut guy driven to the good or honorable thing he is a victim of the pogorms and purges trying to do his best to survive as Hitler and Stalin shred the heartland of Europe. Our spy by being at the right place at the right time proves that even reluctant heroes can make a real difference.
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on 6 March 2003
Alan Furst is a superb writer with a very sure and evocative touch. I have enjoyed all of his books, but Dark Star shines out as the finest. The central character Szara is a complex and compelling one as flawed and interesting as one of Le Carre's heroes.
This is an author who should not be pigeon-holed into a genre.
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on 10 October 2014
20 years after first reading it Dark Star seems messier, badly plotted, and poorly edited (and the ending makes no sense). It's still brilliant though. Wonderful atmosphere, great sense of place, astute characterisation, and lovely turn of phrase. Although a lot of the research is clearly regurgitated largely undigested, it is mostly good research, and there is enough structuring to make it seem plausible.

Easily the best Furst novel, and a great spy and historical thriller.
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on 21 October 2013
Sentence by sentence, Furst is the master of the literary spy novel. Well crafted, erudite, moving novels in a league of their own.
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