Sunday, September 7, 2008


by Alan Furst
This is the tenth novel I’ve read by Alan Furst. Sometimes I have been disappointed by his endings, but getting there always has been so great a pleasure that I take the chance that the next Furst novel I buy and read will have a great, a logical, an appropriate or a powerful finale. For those of his novels that disappoint me in the final pages I usually say to my wife, Rae, “This could have been a work of art with a better ending.”
THE SPIES OF WARSAW has a logical and appropriate ending. Furst, as usual, takes us on a fascinating journey full of twists and turns, cliffs, sex, betrayal, and love in telling us the story of a French Army officer assigned to his country’s embassy in Warsaw as a military attaché in the months leading up to the German invasion of Poland.
Col. Mercier, the protagonist of THE SPIES OF WARSAW, is a combat veteran of WWI, whose role through tempting a German businessman and through high-risk eyeballing of the Wehrmacht on secret maneuvers, is to uncover the hardware and tactics of the coming enemy’s war machine. Along the way, Mercier manages to arouse the personal animosity of a brutish SS officer, who unfortunately for him doesn’t realize the courage and toughness of the Frenchman he is intent on personally beating to death. That element adds a great deal of excitement to the novel. This is a book well worth buying and reading.
Furst is one of the finest writers I've read. Earlier I spoke of endings so let’s turn to beginnings. The opening chapter of his 1991 novel, DARK STAR, is a tapestry of description. I use the word tapestry to describe the richness of place and people he depicts.
I was propelled through both THE SPIES OF WARSAW and DARK STAR. The only disappointment came in the closing chapter of DARK STAR when Furst manipulates the reader unnecessarily and misses what might have been a perfect novel.
Furst’s novels, always set on the eve of WWII, are character and plot driven with the history of the era laced into the background and never allowed to dominate, never allowed to swallow the protagonist.
In DARK STAR, Szara, the protagonist, is a successful Pravda journalist who does some spying on the side. The novel unfolds in the context of the events leading up to WW II, the invasion of Poland, the attempts by anti-Stalinists to unseat him, and the budding conspiracy of German military aristocrats to assassinate Hitler.
Szara lives in fear of being killed by the Soviet intelligence apparatchiks. He undertakes a series of Soviet intelligence missions in which his associates are murdered on two occasions, but he escapes. He finds two women to fall in love with in Nazi Germany. He isn’t loyal to anyone but himself, selling Soviet intelligence to the British in return for enabling several hundred Jews to escape from Europe to Palestine. Although he isn’t religious, Szara has a sense of obligation to Jews— perhaps it is a racial or historical loyalty. When his fear is fulfilled—that Soviet intelligence apparently discovering his betrayal have marked him for death—he goes on the run, is captured by the Gestapo and is rescued by an anti-Hitler German aristocrat.
Despite my unhappiness with the ending, DARK STAR is another novel well worth buying and reading.

A SUGGESTION: my novel, OOOEELIE, is well worth reading. Free on Kindle, SmashwordsBarnes and Noble, and Apple.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Twenty-three years after I wrote a novel called KINZUA, I began to rewrite it. The reason I was attempting to resurrect KINZUA was that in 1970, the book had gotten me an agent, who loved it and tried to sell it but failed. In addition, several of my colleagues at Newsday read it and said they couldn’t put it down. In retrospect, I can’t believe how low their standards were or how dishonest they were in giving me their assessments.
Any way, I reread KINZUA and was dismayed by how lousy a book it was.
The idea for KINZUA had come from the construction of the Kinzua Dam, which flooded a large part of a Seneca Indian reservation in northwestern Pennsylvania. The Seneca had the usual treaty with the United States, which promised that their people and their land would be undisturbed as long as the water flowed and the grass grew. And they were left alone for a couple of hundred years until powerful economic forces decided to seize a large piece of their reservation so it could be used for a combination of flood control, a power plant, and a huge lake for recreation.
KINZUA was a novel with mystical underpinnings in which a Seneca secret society conjures up a supernatural force that destroys the Kinzua Dam and in the process convinces the U.S. Government not to rebuild the dam.
In rewriting KINZUA into THE DREAM DANCER, I abandoned not only the characters and plot of the original novel, but eliminated references to the actual Kinzua Dam and the Seneca. Instead, I created an imaginary city, river and Native American band somewhere in Northwestern Pennsylvania, but kept the original concept of the federal government double-crossing a seemingly helpless handful of Native Americans called the Okwe.
Coop Rever, the protagonist of THE DREAM DANCER is chosen by the Great Spirit to carry out a deed that will save the Okwe land from being flooded by a dam and Okwe culture from being destroyed by a Congressman with a hidden agenda of revenge. Coop Rever, who had become a successful author and war correspondent, reluctantly becomes the Dream Dancer of the title at a great cost to himself: losing his wife and daughter and spending decades in a cruel prison for killing the Congressman and his family.
I consider THE DREAM DANCER my first fully realized novel. And, after many rereadings of the entire book and individual chapters, I have reached the immodest conclusion that it is a work of art. THE DREAM DANCER can be read on line at my website.

The next novel I will review is THE SPIES OF WARSAW by Alan Furst

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.