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A friend of mine in London recently asked for a suggestion about a good book to read on the night train from Munich to Prague. I immediately recommended Alan Furst's King of Shadows, which opens on the night train from Budapest to Paris. An Alan Furst novel is often the answer to a request for a `good read'.

Furst comes from a line of writers whose literary lineage can be traced back to both Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. Like Ambler, Furst often takes an unassuming, or unwitting civilian and immerses him in a world of mystery and intrigue in pre and post-World War II Europe. Foreign Correspondent opens in Civil War Spain but quickly moves to pre-war Paris. Italian journalist Carlo Weisz, a refugee from Mussolini's fascist Italy living in Paris, is part of a group of Italian expatriates who print a dissident newspaper, Liberazione, and smuggle it into Italy. The Italian secret police, the OVRA, has infiltrated the group. One of its members has been murdered and each member of the group is feeling the effects of the OVRA turning the screws on their operations. At the same time Weisz' day job as a foreign correspondent for Reuters takes him back and forth to the Berlin of Hitler, Himmler, and Goring. It is in Berlin that Weisz reunites with and reignites his affair with Christa von Schirren. Along the way Weisz comes to the attention of and is recruited by British Intelligence. The plot outline is simple: will Weisz and his cell continue to publish Liberazione and will Weisz be able to get Christa out of Berlin before the war that everyone knows is coming closes all borders.

Furst's strong point has always been how he sets the scene. His atmospherics are tremendous. His descriptions of the streets of Berlin or Paris or Barcelona and the atmosphere of those cities reek of authenticity. Similarly, Furst has a keen eye for the inner life of his protagonists. Almost invariably Furst manages to convey a real sense of how those protagonists think and feel. Both of these elements of his writing generally dominate his plotting and are primarily responsible for getting the reader to turn to the next page. This is certainly the case with Foreign Correspondent. The plot itself is not complex and it did not leave me wondering what was going to happen next. Similarly, the book did not really build to a real climax. The book ended more with a sigh than with a bang. Some may find that a bit disappointing. However, as readers of Furst's books already know his novels strive for authenticity. In much of life, particularly in the era Furst writes about, storybook endings or dramatic endings are more the exception than the rule. However, despite being aware of this I think the ending was more than a bit anti-climactic and more so than in some of his other novels.

All in all, and as the title of the review suggests, despite some weakness in plotting (in my opinion) Foreign Correspondent will make for a satisfying read for a long, lazy summer day or a freezing winter night.
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on 17 November 2007
Maybe it's me. I've read all of Furst's novels in this loose "series", and I'm a big fan. But either I'm getting bored with the style, or he's treading water.

This certainly isn't a bad book. And there's nohing wrong with taking a "low key" approach to the 30s/40s espionage genre - but the Graham Greene comparisons are way off the mark. Compared to his earlier works, I'm afraid this is "Furst by numbers". All the usual elements are there: the jaded but honest protagonist, the potentially doomed love affair, the "night and fog" locations, and a few of the "occasional" characters from the earlier books.

But it just never quite catches fire. Sad to say, I could easily have put this book down a few pages before the end, with no burning desire to finish it. And that's something I never thought I'd say about an Alan Furst novel. I'll still await his next book with anticipation, because I know what he's capable of - but I think he needs to re-read "The Polish Officer" or "Dark Star" as a reminder of how it should be done.
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VINE VOICEon 4 June 2007
I enjoyed it - having been recommended him by friends I trust. This was the first volume to hand in a bookshop so bought it without knowing anything about it. Was immediately swept into the murk and dinge of pre-war Paris - which was excellent. He seems to have lost his faith in main verbs, but this was gradually restored as the book went on (or is that my imagination?) - it took a bit of time to get into the style - but it's staccato writing certainly helped to conjure up the nervousness and insecurity of living in a world gone mad and overshadowed by war.

For all the suspense and evocation of the book, which i loved (Furst is clearly a very descriptive, poetic even, writer), i couldn't help feeling a little disappointed by the conclusion. I kept wondering how he was going to pull it off as i ran out of pages and so knew the end had to be coming somehow. Kolb's Berlin visit only takes a few pages, and Weisz's final journey (please note care with which i try to avoid plot spoiling) is also rushed. He suddenly arrives - and book ends. Ho hum.

But then i suppose this is a love story not a John Le Carre - and that is sort of the point, i guess. It is humanity and relationships that are the most valuable treasure to protect to in wartime. I have to agree. It's just that i would have greatly enjoyed further descriptions by Furst of how to reach this conclusion. But then, if one is begging an author for more, then this presumably means he has done his job pretty well.
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on 31 May 2015
Can anyone present the world at war as well as Furst? I particularly warm to his leading characters who appear like human corks bobbing on the tide of history. They are in marked contrast to the characters who inhabit the shadows. S. Kolb is my favourite, closely followed by the Hungarian Count Polyani. The sinister world of international intelligence activity in the years before.and during World War 2 is brought vividly to life. Soviet.German and Italian state agencies send a shiver down the spine and our own agencies are only slightly less worrying!. I must visit the celebrated brasserie near the Place de La Bastille and see the famous bullet hole for myself.
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on 4 November 2007
Having read an Alan Furst book for the first time, I check up and notice he has quite a reputation. A great storyteller, say critics writing in prestigious publications. Can't argue with that. The Foreign Correspondent carries the reader easily along, augments temperature, pace and complications at just the right cadence, gradually fits the jigsaw pieces together and ends with a satisfying climax.

A great evoker of historical time and place, the critics add. In this case, it's pre-World War II Europe, full of menace and about to explode. Furst specializes in re-creating myriads of cultural microcosms - for example his fascinating description of left-wing Genoese food market stallholders dealing with an unwelcome intrusion by Fascist police. Where on earth did to find out what it was like, just there, just then?

So often he excels himself, but occasionally these cultural tours de force are mildly suspect. His hero comes from Trieste: part Italian, part Slovene. A multi-cultural mix perfectly suited for his theme, with the Slovene component presumably intended to add Balkan zest. However the Slovenes I know are down-to-earth, pragmatic, low-key and somewhat unsophisticated. None of these traits appear in the hero. He is not Slovene.

The Reuters he portrays is leisurely in its work ethic and run by directors who are hand in glove with British Intelligence. I sweated blood and tears as a foreign correspondent for this agency for 18 years, including in Cold War Eastern Europe and the Portuguese Revolution, and I never felt the breath of British Intelligence down my neck once. My managers were so intensely independent, they were at times frankly anti-British.

OK, OK, calm down: it's fiction -- and a great read. Thank you Alan Furst. I wish I could write as well.

Marcus Ferrar [...]
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on 10 February 2007
I look forward to new novels by Alan Furst more than those by any other author. However, I've just re-read The Foreign Correspondent and I still feel it's the least satisfying of Furst's works. Furst seems to be fallng ever more in love with his descriptions of the ambience of pre-war Paris, to the point where passages of this novel read like self-parody. For example, there's a slightly cringeworthy scene set at the restaurant which features in all his novels but which this time has cameos from the heroes of several of his previous works. What is missing from The Foreign Correspondent is any sense of urgency. I'm reminded of The World at Night, which had a similar slight air of aimlessness but to Furst's credit he came back suberbly after that with Red Gold. Those two novels are extremely satisfying if read as one two halves of one complete work so perhaps Furst will return to the protagonist of The Foreign Correspondent and develop a plot around him which is the equal of his excellent characterisation
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on 12 August 2012
Alan Furst's stories are thrillers with a small t. They grab and pull you along, but the storytelling is subtle and deep, avoiding melodrama and high tension plotting that often characterise capital T thrillers. They are sumptuous meals of carefully blended tastes, rather than the zip of junk food. And so it is with The Foreign Correspondent. As with all Furst novels, the prose is excellent, the narrative is well structured and textured, and his characters are complex, living multi-dimensional lives that are filled with difficult choices, conflicting emotions, contradictions, and doubts. In particular, Furst is very good at conveying a scene with few words, conjuring a mood, atmosphere, a sense of place or a character in a few sentences; at historically contextualizing the story, and at effortlessly working across scales - small lives and how they fit into a continental landscape of political turmoil. The result is a well told, multi-layered story that hooks you in early and makes you care about the characters and the politics, and at the end leaves you sated and looking forward to next meal at a Michelin starred restaurant. (I'm aware that one of the criticisms of Furst is that his stories have open or ambiguous endings, but for me that's a plus - I'm tired of nice, neat endings that rarely happen in real life).
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on 24 November 2007
Having discovered Furst this summer, I have been enjoying going through the catalogue. What I really enjoy about Furst's work is how it makes me think again about the tragic history of Europe in the 20th century and unimaginably horrific events within living memory in ostensibly civilised societies. His work makes me feel lucky to be living in this era - which is strange in itself. This is somehow less intense than the novels set in eastern Europe but Furst shines a soft torchlight on the era gently unfolding an ostensibly simple plot using a fascinating blend of characters. A pervasive theme in his work is the characters' lack of awareness of the true extent of the horrors that are going to engulf Europe - it gives the reader a range of new perspectives on our common (European) history. My niggling reservation about this novel (similar to his other books) is the ending.
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on 6 April 2012
This was my first Furst.
I was expecting to get into it as one might Graham Greene. It was disappointing because despite the reputation, this book never really took off. The character descriptions were good but I never really got to know the MC (main character). I understand this is't one of his best, so will follow the recommendation of another reviewer and try 'Dark Star'.
The book's main effect on me was to make me feel that the realism was good - both journalism and spying must be boring in real life, but that isn't what one reads thrillers for. The high spot of the action seemed to be when Weiss (the MC) gets hit by a stranger in a crowd and thrill of thrills - breaks his specs!
One of the problems with the MC's relationship with the woman he loves is, it is under-described. His feelings for her don't come through strongly enough, so in the end you become ambivalent about what happens to her off-stage.
Sorry, but this one can't be his best, so I'll try again.
Three stars because it is competent and the descriptive prose is effective.
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on 4 June 2006
I picked this up for my dad for Father's Day as he is a big Fan of Furst's writing, but started reading the fist chapter--just to check it out--and was unable to stop reading. Finished it in two days, and this is not a breezy read! The setting is 1939 Paris and foreign correspondent Carlo Weisz goes to work as an editor for an underground journal reacting against the fascist regime in Italy. The plot is simple as it revolves around his attempts to enlist help in the cause, his arrest and eventual escape; but the real pleasure here is not so much the twist and turns of the plot but the shadowy underworld that Furst creates, peopled with just as shadowy-and sometimes menacing-characters. The tension in this thriller comes from unknown sources, the reality of what "IS", the undisclosed, not from one evil source. In the end it is about not succumbing to the way things are but taking steps towards change, no matter how small they may be. This is a beautifully written book that should be on everyone's reading list! I also have to recommend my favorite book from last year "Tourist in the Yucatan" this author deserves more attention.
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