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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 30 July 2008
I'm a big fan of Alan Furst's novels but was a little disappointed with 'The Foreign Correspondent'. I enjoyed this one far more. I thought it was very much like a Le Carre story, concerning the life of spies. There is not a great deal of action, but a fair amount of suspense. I thought it a very complete story and we are even told the fate of the two main characters, at the end. Well to a certain point. Which is not always the case with the this authors novels.

At least two characters from his other stories are in this. Colonel Vyborg; and Doctor Lapp. Mentioned in one sentence only, is Captain De Milja of 'The Polish officer' which is my favorite.

The hero, Captain Mercier is a hard man, a decorated veteran of a cavalry engagement, rather like Nicholas Morath in 'Kingdom of Shadows'. He comes to suspect how the Germans will invade France, but convincing those above him proves difficult.

There is romance as always.
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on 13 September 2008
I was somewhat disappointed with Furst's last book, "The Foreign Correspondent," but this book is more like his former pre-WWII spy novels. The year is 1937, the prospect of another war is looming, and Col. Mercier, a French military attache based in Warsaw, is given the task to discover how, should war break out, the Germans will attack France. Again we meet a cast of spies, civil servants and military officers, many of them world-weary and believing that war is inevitable. As in all his other novels, Furst includes a little romance, the Brasserie Heininger with its bullet-shattered mirror (that happens in his book Night Soldiers), the smoky night clubs, the rustic worker's bars. It's Furst's evocation of this era, the terse conversations, the atmosphere, which makes his books so good.

I didn't give it five stars as I still prefer his earlier novels, like Night Soldiers or The Polish Officer. These books were much longer, much meatier. I can't get enough of Alan Furst! If you are interested in espionage novels, or novels about WWII, Furst is definitely one to read.
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on 28 January 2013
Not exciting enough for me by far. There was no real sense of danger at anytime. Quite bland all the way through. Reasonably good prose but it was broke down in sections about three times what a chapter would be expected to contain so unless your sessions are long you break in the middle of the (non) action. Don't pay more than 50 p for this or you will be disappointed.
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Alan Furst has written a number of spy novels set in the late 1930s. Whilst they invariably take place in different locations with a new cast of characters, there are some links between the books. What sets his writing apart is the sense of authenticity and the way that the books ooze tension and menace.

This book is set predominantly in Warsaw, Poland, between 1937-38. A country caught between Communist Russia on one side and an increasingly militant Germany on the other. Our hero is Mercier, the "military attache" to the French embassy, whose job it is to uncover as much information as he possibly can about Germany's potential invasion plans for France. The story doesn't really follow one coherent path. Rather it is about the day to day realties of his job: contacts wooed and lost, promising leads than evaporate, leads that produce solid information which may or may not be acted on in Paris.

Mercier is a wonderful character, still grieving the loss of his wife three years earlier and regretful at the distance between him and his adult daughters. He dislikes wooing traitors and despairs about Germany's obviously aggressive intentions towards his country. When he meets Anna he senses that perhaps there is the possibility of some happiness in his future, but she is engaged to someone else and seems out of reach.

I can't think of another writer who does a better job of capturing the feel of the times. Despite the disjointed nature of the plot, this is well worth reading.
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on 6 April 2014
Disappointing would be my overall reaction to this book. The characterisation is good, the sense of time and place is well captured, the various elements of the plot are plausible. So far so good, but the let down is the lack of narrative tension. The action climax comes half way through the book. The promised revenge denouement of that action is a bit of a damp squib and the book then 'builds' to a hitch less, smoothly executed intelligence coup. Well executed but bland.
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on 19 January 2013
Alan Furst is hailed on his books as 'widely recognised as a master of the historical spy novel' and by the New York Times as 'America's pre-eminent spy novelist'. The pity is that he is none of these things. The filters obviously omit Brit contenders like John Le Carre, Frederick Forsyth, Ian Fleming and one his novels are very comparable with: Eric Ambler. A look at lists of top US spy novelists reveals Tom Clancy, Martin Cruz Smith, Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm) and Edward S Aarons (Sam Duvell) while Furst is nowhere.
'Spies of Warsaw' is a weak romance without tension. Furst uses maps (Warsaw 1937, Paris 1939) and little details in his novels to show verisimilitude but you simply do not need to know the street the French Embassy was in in Warsaw before the war. Confidential discussions take place and secret names are revealed without a thought at cafe tables. No one worries about the enemy's ears. Melodrama is used to supply what tension there is outside the characters. Possible crisis moments are wasted. In the 'Black Front' section two Soviet GRU agents, Victor and Malka Rozen, are to be evacuated by aircraft. The only snag is a dairyman's cart that blocks the road, as they are not pursued by the Russians. Then he wastes a couple of pages where nothing happens but goodbyes being said. Even Colonel Bruner comes along from Paris on the plane to no purpose. The plane taxies away and is soon a 'black dot in the sky'.
Mercier has been warned by Polish Military Intelligence that the Nazis, led by August Voss of the SD, are after him and he needs to take care. Yet when he visits an arms factory he dismisses his driver, Marek. He is not even armed when three men approach to give him a beating when he comes out. He is saved by Marek who shoots the Nazi's driver and comes to his aid. "Who were they?" Marek said. "No idea, Mercier said. "They spoke German." "Then why...?" Mercier couldn't answer. He again pointlessly denies knowledge when they examine the dead Nazi driver. Then he goes home and takes his love interest out to a film. It is a wonder they didn't have a night in with slippers and pipe by the fire. So even where there should be danger and conflict everything is soon smoothed away.
The recent BBC production with David Tennant as Mercier tries to inject more drama into the story but makes it even worse. It extends Furst's story by needlessly adding a German double-cross that makes no sense and the evacuation of the Polish gold reserves. Furst's books lack the life and sparkle of Eric Ambler's who was much more a political animal and whose stories are more convincing.
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on 28 March 2010
Hum. There is a sense in which The Spies of Warsaw is a kind of Greatest Hits: characters, places, themes and narrative ideas from the past crop up all the time. It's now clear that Furst is in love with an idealised pre-1939 Europe of palaces, embassies, cocktail parties, country estates, aristocrats, night trains and doomed patriots. He does this very well (no-one better) but missing from this book is any real sense of Poland in the late 1930s with its unpleasant military dictatorship and desperate grinding poverty. He also makes elementary errors in the diplomatic world he tries to describe so thoroughly - you can have a chargé d'affaires or an Ambassador, for example, but not both at the same time. Like most Americans he can understand European politics intellectually but not emotionally. Here he tries to depict a couple of NKVD agents in a sympathetic light, but only produces a couple of caricatures. He has yet to depict a credible socialist or communist figure in any of his books. All in all, I can't help wondering if it's time for a break of some kind, delightful as his books are.
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on 4 April 2013
Its a personal novel as the French might say, and if you dont like the style, it may not work. But if you like Camus and Sartre, this is well-written and enjoyable. A sort of Sartre lite, I suppose! But excellent all the same.
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on 27 February 2014
Splendid Book as are all of Alan Furst's. His descriptive powers of life during WW2 and the spying "industry" are second to none. He keeps the reader on tender hooks throughout, Recommend highly.
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