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Not His Best Outing
on 25 March 2003
This is the fifth of Furst's seven WWII espionage novels I've read, and not one of his best. To be sure, it has all the trademarks of his work: good writing, dedication to period detail, oppressive and dreary atmosphere, exotic locales (Paris, Istanbul, Odessa, Belgrade, etc.), a middle-aged loner protagonist caught up in the espionage intrigues of the time, love interest, a blurry web of operatives. But that's the problem—if you've read a few of his books, you've basically read this one. The characters (especially the heroes) in his books are all starting to run together rather distressingly, and he's over-reliant on atmosphere to carry the minimally plotted stories. What's worse is that the pace of this one is absolutely glacial, there's barely any thrill in the thriller!
The gist here is that in 1940 the Allies are desperate to interdict German access to the vital Romanian oil fields. Having tried to sabotage them once before, they're faced with a tough problem. Paris-based Russian émigré writer I.A. Serebin is drawn into a plot to resurrect an old spy network in an attempt to strike a blow. However, Serebin's recruitment into this venture is never really convincing, and the weaving of the plot is so oblique that it's hard to get drawn in. It's as if Furst is so faithful to building the shadow world that his characters live in that he's forgotten about the reader. Which is not to say this is an awful book or anything, just that he's written better and might benefit from straying a little further from the European theater he's set seven books in.