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.

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