Michael's Reviews > Spies of the Balkans
Spies of the Balkans (Night Soldiers, #11)
by Alan Furst
by Alan Furst
Jun 19, 10
Read in June, 2010
Furst set a very high standard for himself early in his career. He clearly owns the period from 1933-45 in Europe and is a very fine writer of historical fiction filled with intrigue and likeable characters. Over the last few years, however, he has slipped into a formulaic pattern that takes few risks and delivers few surprises. I'm not concerned with those formulaic elements that function as trademarks (protagonists who never die, Table 14 in the Brasserie Heininger in Paris with its mirror marked by a bullet hole, characters who reappear in different novels). It's more of an impression that he's started writing by the numbers -- filling in the blanks on a template because it works (at least in that it sells books). I still read everything he writes, because a mediocre Furst novel is better than the best efforts of 90% of best-selling novelists. I just want him to challenge himself a little more, to get out of his comfort zone and take some real risks as a novelist. The novelist who wrote The Polish Officer, Dark Star, Red Gold, and The World at Night is still in there somewhere, despite such mediocrities as The Foreign Correspondent. When I read Furst, I want to listen for the footsteps on the stair, to hold my breath while waiting for the knock on the door, to look anxiously over my shoulder at the black sedan crawling down a dark street -- I want to feel fear and to care passionately about what happens to people I feel I know. I want more than boilerplate scenarios translated from one European city to another. I don't want Furst to become another Bernard Cornwell, who keeps on churning out the prose after the creativity has died. One of the problems with success is that it encourages an inclination to repeat what works and a fear of failure that stifles creativity. In the meantime, I'll keep buying the books Furst writes in the hope that the fire has not gone out for good. The latest novel is better than a number of more recent ones, but it shows a few worrying trends, including talking down to the reader. I submit that anyone who needs the following explanation in the text shouldn't be reading a novel set in World War II: "'. . . the Geheime Staatspolizei.' An official title, the secret state police, simply one more government organization. But in Germany it was common usage to abbreviate this title, which came out 'Gestapo.'" I'd like to think this was the idiotic idea of an inexperienced editor. If so, one would think Random House could do better. Roald Dahl was one of the last pilots to fly in defense of Greece during the German invasion. His account of that experience could give Furst a few pointers about how to write a nail-biting, palm-sweating story about Greece as the Nazi night descended.
Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Spies of the Balkans.sign in »