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Terrific return to form
on 21 June 2008
I was disappointed by 'Dark Voyage', thought that 'The Foreign Correspondent' was a slight improvement, but am delighted that Alan Furst has re-found his unique style and voice with 'The Spies of Warsaw'.
It's a real return to the high quality of his earlier boooks like 'The World at Night' and 'Dark Star' and their masterly evocations of period and setting - here principally Warsaw in the late 1930s, with the looming menace of Hitler's Germany on one side and Stalin's Russia on the other.
French military attache and intelligence officer Colonel Mercier, a minor aristocrat and wounded veteran of the Great War, is contemplating tendering his resignation, but dutifully plays his part in the diplomatic shadowplays, where the spies are known, but their covers are politely maintained by all, where his Polish hosts are probing for France's intentions when war comes, the Russians make overtures to recruit him, and the competing German agencies are fighting their own internal struggles...
But then one of Mercier's agents makes a mistake, and sets into motion a chain of events that forces Mercier back into the action, as he has the chance to uncover a vital part of Hitler's war plans.
We move between the embassy salons and the backstreets, the gilded restaurants and the brothels, the 5-star hotels and the rented rooms - infused with the author's sweetly melancholic appreciation of a still-graceful Europe sliding into conflict. There's romance too, plus the thumbnail character sketches and internal lives of the protagonists, sparsely but skilfully drawn in Furst's trademark style of hints and highlights - not too much, just outlines that the reader fills in. And of course, the Brasserie Heininger makes a re-appearance...
If you're a Furst addict or have just discovered him, you're in for an enjoyable read.