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"Kingdom of Shadows" is a dark entreaty
on 11 January 2002
Hanging over Paris--nay, all of Europe in l938-39 like a Spectre
is the visage (and vandalism) of Adolph Hitler. However, as we well know, this was no mirage and eventually the Nazis were goose-stepping their way down the boulevards of The City of Light. Thus, with this somber--and agreeably frightening--spirit enveloping the continent, Alan Furst's "Kingdom of Shadows" mesmerizes its readers and we wait for the action to play out. Of course, we know the historical outcome, but Furst is able to paint an atmosphere that is both real and surreal.
The Nazis are coming, the Nazis are coming!
Furst's central character forty-ish Nicholas Morath loves Paris, where he's been living for some time now as a (not "an") Hungarian expatriot (which translates, in those days, as an aristocrat!). Indeed, a bon vivant in his own right, Nicholas' life even borders on the boring, despite the prestigious life style he enjoys--his uncle is a count; he moves in and out of Parisian high life.
But he's not French. He's Hungarian and the winds of war certainly are undeniable. He also is privy to the covert Nazi political machinations and, like Cassandra, knows the future only too well. Thus, he is enlisted by his uncle to "help the cause" and he goes about with the energy of a true patriot.Furst treats us to a geography lesson as well,as Nicholas hops, skips, and jumps his way across the path of the German war machine, from Paris to Budapest to Bratislava to Antwerp,and so on. The atmosphere Furst creates works well with the geography of the land, the political climate of the time, and the naivete of much of the "modern world." This is not to say that "Kingdom of Shadows" is dull reading--far from it. The author has no difficulty in catching--and holding--the reader's undivided attention. His dramatic pacing, his power of description and episode--all blend into an excellent read, one that, due to its historical implications, certainly cannot contain a "and they lived happily ever after" ending. We know what Hitler did in l939 and that he continued for a few more years. Furst doesn't take us past 1939.
This is an excellent read--not just for studetns of history, but for anyone who delights in being caught up in a plausible--yet exciting--storyline. (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)