1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Polish Officer (Paperback)
Until recently I didn't know of Alan Furst's writing at all, but I'm very pleased to have now discovered it. This was my first of his books, and from other reviews out there it looks as though there are plenty more to enjoy which will be even more satisfying than I found this one. I don't often read what might be called 'spy thrillers', but I am a fan of historical fiction. This book - and I gather the others of Furst as well - is a successful blend of the two genres.
In a word I would describe this as 'atmospheric'. Highly atmospheric. The plot itself is not the most intriguing element, rather a series of early wartime assignments following the 1939 invasion of Poland and taking us up to the first winter following the German invasion of Russia in 1941. The main protagonist - Captain de Milja of the title - is a very believable character. He is a man who appears to have surrendered himself to the circumstances he finds himself in at the war's start, determined to make the best of it in order to survive. He will do what he can for his nation while it finds itself under occupation and it's government in exile.
Where this book excels though is in the authenticity given to the various locations that the story unfolds in, primarily Poland and France, and the feel of the places that really comes over. The cafes, the locomotive sidings, the lonely hotels, the remote farms. You can smell the wood smoke on the village's edge and hear the old clocks' dull ticking in the safe-house of a humdrum railway town. The secondary characters are fascinating and I only wished that some of their stories be slightly more explored, though perhaps this is Furst's intention, as de Milja so often finds himself suddenly reassigned or having to make an abrupt escape.
Overall, a very enjoyable and escapist read into a frightening world which the author brings to life very skilfully. I will definitely be reading more of his work.