Alan Furst’s latest is a lightweight effort compared to the many other tomes he has penned. One of the finest spy crime thriller authors writing today (and assured of a notable place amongst the leading authors of the genre – he’s as good as Le Carré), he’s an author I have recently been introduced to so it was good to spot this latest effort languishing on a shelf in Canada. I eagerly grabbed it. Compared to his others it was a zipper of a read, done in a few hours on a plane ride. The premise is straightforward, the theme simple, the characters are few and their motives are clear.
The novel commences with the voyage of Frederic Stahl, Hollywood star, progeny of the Warner Bros Studios, sent by his employers in a swap with Paramount to film “Après La Guerre” – a Jean Avil production set in Europe, filmed in Paris, about an aging Hungarian soldier who falls in love with a refugee, smuggles her across borders, falls foul of the law, eventually wins the day. Standard stuff. In reality, Stahl finds himself skating the thin border between actor and reluctant spy as the rising power of Hitler’s Reich decides to try and use him to promote German interests. Their methods are direct, blunt, becoming forceful when he objects to their assumptions. Whilst carefully navigating the higher echelons of Parisian society, having a strange affair with Kiki, working with Orlova, and falling for the movie dressmaker, Renata, Stahl finds himself acting more and more in the interests of his government and less in the comfort of his thespian role. This is a story of a man and several women dancing in the shadows of the political war of a Europe on the brink of WWII; a story of love; story of romanticized espionage.
To be honest, it is a light effort from Furst, but then again, that’s no bad thing as his earlier works can be very heavy for a new reader. The usual mirror makes an appearance, this time with the bullet hole. Furst’s knowledge of his subject matter remains admirable, his handling of both plot and narrative as deft as ever. One cannot help but wonder if this is a short story that he’s expanded at a publisher’s request. Substantive prose, heavy hitting plots, expansive detail and knowledge of his themes – this is where Furst’s strengths lie and his next novel needs to return to. This is a fluffy filler – for him – well done, erudite, but a sketch of what he’s truly capable of. Fans of Furst will come away feeling slightly unsatisfied with this; but I’d recommend it for a new reader of this wonderful author.