on 15 June 2012
I came to Alan Furst after Spies of the Balkans and have been busily reading his older books ever since. When I heard he had a new novel out I thought I should probably wait until it came out in paperback and finish reading his older books instead but yesterday I just couldn't resist and I bought the hardback of Mission to Paris. And I'm so glad I did because I feel as though I've just time travelled - the descriptions of pre-war Paris, and Hungary, are so well done, I feel as though I've actually been there. This is a gorgeous book, and even better and more accessible than his others. I'm not a history buff, and my only quibble with his other books is that I sometimes feel don't feel informed enough. But Mission to Paris takes you straight to the heart of the events in a way that is totally gripping and totally accessible. And there's a great love story too. My wife told me she'd never read a book about spies and war but then I made her read a few pages and now she is hooked - perhaps because of the dishy film star hero! Maybe tonight I'll be the one telling her to put the light off and go to sleep! I can't recommend this book enough.
on 10 August 2012
Alan Furst continues to write gripping accounts of the period around and during the Second World War, mostly set in France. His latest novel does not disappoint and as usual manages to evoke quite brilliantly life in Paris in 1938, with the increasing fear and violence as well as the differing attitudes of the French people towards the imminent invasion of France.
To begin with, the hero of the novel, Fredric Stahl, appears to be less committed towards the struggle against the Nazis and one's sympathies towards him are therefore less engaged. However, as his determination not to be used as a Nazi puppet grows, so does our affection and we are desperate for his survival.
Alan's understated description of the horrors awaiting the European Jews as they struggle for survival with their attempts to escape from Germany, only to find that they are still not safe in their new country, brings alive the feelings of terror and desperation as every avenue to freedom is blocked.
Renate Steiner's character is particularly attractive - not a beauty in the physical sense, but full of determination and courage with the underlying feelings of fear of the refugee, always looking over her shoulder and not sure whom to trust. Fredric Stahl did well to choose her over the shallow and self-serving Kiki de Saint Ange.
Roll on the next book!
on 18 June 2012
Loyal followers of Alan Furst's closely observed and highly atmospheric novels of spies and politics in Europe just before and during WWII will recognise one familiar (Hungarian) character in "Mission to Paris" (originally slated as "The Spies of Paris"), but new readers should not despair if they don't. It simply means they face the delicious prospect of discovering Furst's backlist of at least ten more brilliant novels. In this canon of work, Alan Furst has shown (and hopefully will continue to show) an iron grasp of the complexities of European history, politics and culture, into which he places characters who on the surface are compeletely out-of-their depth swimming against the tide of Fascist tyranny. The one thing Furst's characters have going for them is always that although they may be flawed human beings, they know that for evil to succeed all it needs is for good men (and women) to do nothing.
Do not expect bombs, exhibitions of unarmed combat, car chases or super-hero pyrotechnics. The level of violence in one Furst's books is usually on the same level as that in the movie "Casablanca" - when it's needed, it's there and it makes a point. But that is not to say his books are not thrilling - and occasionally downright chilling. In "Mission to Paris", the methods of an official Nazi press agency (actually a front for political warfare) are explained as follows (I paraphrase): "We (the Nazis) don't send out press releases, we send out operatives - and then let other people issue the press releases...."
"Mission to Paris" is a novel of close-plotting, immaculate history, rich atmosphere and fine, fine writing.
on 20 June 2012
Since I picked up 'The Polish Officer' in a Book Shop many years ago I have been addicted to Alan Furst. I eagerly await his next publication and always order it so that I have it as soon as it is out. He has never disappointed me and I find that I have to re-read each novel twice after a first reading and I subsequently return to the novels later.
Furst does not produce mass-market 'pot boilers' or action thrillers. He writes beautiful sparing prose with never a word wasted. His characters are always well drawn, his work packed with complex plotting and subtle action and his central characters are usually honourable people tip-toeing their way through a murky and threatening world of intrigue and subtle espionage.
Is flattery and comparison a good thing? It seems that many comparisons of other novelists writing in this genre are made to Alan Furst. I like David Downing's 'Station Series' but as good as they are they are not in the same league as Furst. In my opinion no contemporary writer is. To draw a comparison to Furst you have to look back to the great writers of espionage fiction in an earlier age - to Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. There is much talk about 'Greeneland' and the brilliant world which Greene created in his works. Surely now after 'Mission to Paris' we should acknowledge the existence of 'Furstland', a world where honourable people are drawn into resisting the march of a dishonorable world? He has created this world very cleverly over a series of wonderful novels. Any of those novels can be read on ther own but taken together the novels evoke a stunning backcloth of the period. In 'Mission to Paris' I found myself in awe of the gentle pointers I was being given to his earlier works and characters. The film producer Casson who appeared in 'The World at Night'and the wonderful Hungarian Diplomat Polanyi.
I can't recommend Furst highly enough. All those I have introduced to his work have adored it as much as I do. He is by far my favourite contemporary writer and I am already eager to read his next novel.
on 29 September 2013
I've read a few Alan Furst novels, my favourite being The Polish Officer, so came to this new novel with anticipation of a good, juicy read. From the beginning (and my eyesight is not to blame here), I found the small font size very annoying. Far too small and nothing like the usual font used in Furst's novels. It took at least 100 pages to get into and I set the novel aside for a time as it just wasn't working for me. Fredric Stahl is a decent man who gets involved in Nazi intrigue but compared to other Furst novels, this one dragged, although pre-war Paris and Hungary are beautifully described and Furst clearly has a love of the French capital. You can smell the Gauloises in cafes and railway stations.
I agree with the reviewer who said the Brasserie Heininger story has been told before (see Philip Kerr's Field Grey for his description) so it's become a bit predictable by now. Furst's women are a mixed bunch and they seem to be either femme fatale types (Kiki) or "plain" women like Orlova or even Renate, nothing in between, and I wonder if Furst actually likes women that much!
The ending was unsatisfactory, as if the author was in a hurry to complete the novel so I'm afraid this one will be consigned to my local charity shop. 3 stars at a push.
The story is set in Paris in late 1938. Hitler has appropriated Czechoslovakia and there are fears that he will invade Poland. The French are split between those who feel that he must be stopped and those who want to appease him if it will avoid France being drawn into another war for which it is ill prepared. An Austrian born, American movie star by the name of Fredric Stahl, comes to Paris to shoot a film. Initially he is happy to be in Paris, a city that he lived in many years previously and genuinely loved. Gradually however he becomes aware of the undercurrents of menace in the city. The German Government are keen to take advantage of his Austrian roots for their propaganda purposes and initially the (somewhat naive) Stahl inadvertently plays into their hands. Then he realises that this gives him the opportunity to assist his own Government in collecting information about the Nazis, although he doesn't fully appreciate the danger in which that will place him.
This was very much a book of two halves for me. The first half of the book dragged, to the point where I kept falling asleep when trying to read it at the end of the day. One of Furst's strengths as a writer is the way that he creates an entire world for you, but there is so much irrelevant detail about the movie itself and so many characters get introduced only to disappear again. In the second half of the book, when Stahl starts to get involved in spying for the Americans, the book gets far more involving and genuinely tense. By the end I was loving it - but it took me over 100 pages to get into it.
Furst includes references to events in previous books and a few familiar characters make walk on appearances. This will not affect you if you are not familiar with his previous books, but is a pleasing addition if you are.
Overall I liked the book, but the fact that it took so long to get going was a problem for me.
on 17 December 2013
Book 12, in the Night Soldiers series
Mr. Furst returns once more to pre-war Europe, nothing is formulaic about his novels each stands on its own although some may recognize old faces form time to time.
In "Mission to Paris ", the author lures his protagonist Fredric Stahl, twice Oscar nominated movie star to the "City of Light". Fredic thinks he is in France to play the leading role for paramount in "Après la Guerre". But in Europe 1938 things are not really as they seem after all it is a frightening time as the Continent is moving towards war.
Fredic makes the movie and gets entangle with all sorts of characters and attracts the attention of the Germans who are very interested in him. All they want is for him to come to Berlin and be a judge in their film festival... This is an unsubtle attempt to recruit him to spout out pro-Nazi sentiment. Fredric is very skeptical that accepting the offer would be good for his career. Saying no may not be an option and from there he finds himself in direct opposition with the propaganda meisters....Fredic seeks help from the American Embassy and in doing so he inevitably becomes one of their useful courier and information gatherer .......
"Mission in Paris" is an historical spy fiction that gives us clues into the propaganda warfare that the Nazis and the French sympathizers waged on France. The novel is entertaining enough although I found the denouement to be rather weak and its third person narrative to be a bit cheesy at time. There are crackerjack scenes but they lack in suspense is as if the author ran out of steam describing them. I like the happy ending, rare and unlikely did they happen in those days.
Although this novel is good it is definitely not Furst at his best and definitely not the one I preferred the most.
on 23 May 2013
Alan Furst's latest is a lightweight effort compared to the many other tomes he has penned. One of the finest spy crime thriller authors writing today (and assured of a notable place amongst the leading authors of the genre - he's as good as Le Carré), he's an author I have recently been introduced to so it was good to spot this latest effort languishing on a shelf in Canada. I eagerly grabbed it. Compared to his others it was a zipper of a read, done in a few hours on a plane ride. The premise is straightforward, the theme simple, the characters are few and their motives are clear.
The novel commences with the voyage of Frederic Stahl, Hollywood star, progeny of the Warner Bros Studios, sent by his employers in a swap with Paramount to film "Après La Guerre" - a Jean Avil production set in Europe, filmed in Paris, about an aging Hungarian soldier who falls in love with a refugee, smuggles her across borders, falls foul of the law, eventually wins the day. Standard stuff. In reality, Stahl finds himself skating the thin border between actor and reluctant spy as the rising power of Hitler's Reich decides to try and use him to promote German interests. Their methods are direct, blunt, becoming forceful when he objects to their assumptions. Whilst carefully navigating the higher echelons of Parisian society, having a strange affair with Kiki, working with Orlova, and falling for the movie dressmaker, Renata, Stahl finds himself acting more and more in the interests of his government and less in the comfort of his thespian role. This is a story of a man and several women dancing in the shadows of the political war of a Europe on the brink of WWII; a story of love; story of romanticized espionage.
To be honest, it is a light effort from Furst, but then again, that's no bad thing as his earlier works can be very heavy for a new reader. The usual mirror makes an appearance, this time with the bullet hole. Furst's knowledge of his subject matter remains admirable, his handling of both plot and narrative as deft as ever. One cannot help but wonder if this is a short story that he's expanded at a publisher's request. Substantive prose, heavy hitting plots, expansive detail and knowledge of his themes - this is where Furst's strengths lie and his next novel needs to return to. This is a fluffy filler - for him - well done, erudite, but a sketch of what he's truly capable of. Fans of Furst will come away feeling slightly unsatisfied with this; but I'd recommend it for a new reader of this wonderful author.
on 16 June 2012
A new book from Alan Furst is an annual treat to look forward to and savour. In the frantic and frenetic world of today it is wonderful to escape for a few short hours and immerse yourself in the world of Alan Furst.
This is a world of spies and counter terrorism , of people facing seemingly insuperable odds doing their best, of a Europe preparing for and coping with the terrors of the Second World War.
If you are just looking for a fast paced plot and derring do then Furst is not for you but if you are looking for a slow burn, wonderful descriptions of place, mood and atmosphere and fully formed and developed characters all described with glowing prose then look no further.
I have read all of his books and Missiom to Paris is as good and enticing a read as the books that preceded it.
Paris, 1938, and Frederik Stahl is a Hollywood movie star with a European background and an anti-Nazi stance. While making a film set just after WW1, he finds himself increasingly drawn into the manoeuvrings that will lead, inevitably, to war again.
This is the first Furst (sorry!) that I have read: he's an interesting writer, who provides a detailed narrative that feels authentic though, oddly, rather light on atmosphere. This is a far cry from the action-packed, boys' own spy thriller, and is much quieter, almost low-key in its approach. This probably isn't a book for readers who like a clear plot line as the narrative arc is murky and slippery, but I liked the slight feeling we have of not quite being clear what's going on.
The ending, however, is abrupt and unconvincing: I'm never a great fan of those books where the novice amateur outwits the professional...
So this isn't a book to read if you're looking for excitement: it's intelligent, a bit cool, grey in a good way - and paints an intricate picture of the political manipulations taking place in the last year before war officially breaks out in Europe.