Top positive review
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Good for summer days or winter nights
on 12 June 2006
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.