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Night Soldiers #3

The Polish Officer

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September 1939. As Warsaw falls to Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Captain Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission: to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partizan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbor during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal.

294 pages, Paperback

First published February 7, 1995

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About the author

Alan Furst

52 books1,413 followers
Alan Furst is widely recognized as the current master of the historical spy novel. Born in New York, he has lived for long periods in France, especially Paris. He now lives on Long Island.

Night Soldiers novels
* Night Soldiers (1988)
* Dark Star (1991)
* The Polish Officer (1995)
* The World at Night (1996)
* Red Gold (1999)
* Kingdom of Shadows (2000)
* Blood of Victory (2003)
* Dark Voyage (2004)
* The Foreign Correspondent (2006)
* The Spies of Warsaw (2008)
* Spies of the Balkans (2010)
* Mission to Paris (2012)
* Midnight in Europe (2013)
* Under Occupation (2019)

Stand-alone novels
* Your day in the barrel (1976)
* The Paris drop (1980)
* The Caribbean Account (1981)
* Shadow Trade (1983)

For more information, see Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 446 reviews
Profile Image for Scot.
3 reviews
December 4, 2013
It is a common and valid critique of Furst's books that they are just strung together scenes and images. The main character serves mostly to propel the viewpoint around (pre)war Europe and to provide a place to hang a sense of resigned wistful badassery. This is certainly true here, but I think it misses the point.

To me these are more history books than spy novels. They have given rich and broad context - cultural, economic, military - to many aspects of the first half of the 20th century I didn't even know I was ignorant about, and done so in a vivid poignant stream of exegeses and imagery. This book is no exception. In particular, the context of the invasion of Poland and the dance of intention there between the German and Russian empires; the failure of the Germans to cross the English Channel; the strange collapse of France.

So while I would agree this book lacked an overall story arc for the characters, it was a wonderful telling of some parts of the story of modern Europe and war. I feel I understand some new things about it in a deeply human way, as well as having learned a great deal of not-so-ordinar history.
Profile Image for AC.
1,693 reviews
October 19, 2015
I was a bit horrified to find myself reading (and enjoying!) a piece of historical-fiction, a genre I'm supposed to hate... But so it goes.

This book is weak in plotting, which is one of the two main reasons why this is not first-rate literature. The characterization is not bad, though so many characters wend their way through the narrative that there is not much development. All this is the common knock on Furst, apparently.

Also -- one finds too many hackneyed phrases and observations... just too many.

Still, the book is compellingly evocative of a time and an era that fascinates me -- and persuasively so -- and that carries the book. There are plenty of passages and lines that illuminate... some aspect of human nature... darkly.

The book is 'noir', but not the sort of artificial 'noir' one often finds. Rather, it is like reading an urban landscape...taken straight from the photography of Brassaï

The lighting -- of Brassaï AND of Furst... being the lighting of the time... 15 watt bulbs hanging from a single ceiling socket in dim rooms and faded wallpaint...street lamps shaded blue to meet nighttime blackout needs...

All this brings a very compelling and somber note of authenticity... such that one can only regret that Furst didn't dig deeper into himself and into his imagination to find a slightly sharper edge to his story and to his characters... just a little more, and it would have paid huge dividends.
Profile Image for William.
405 reviews191 followers
June 21, 2007
The Polish Officer, like Night Soldiers and Dark Star, is good for its picturesque detail and rich understanding of the deep ties and rivalries between European states during World War II. But what makes each of these novels excellent is the infusion of stories within stories, of the heroes among millions, who give to the inhuman scale of war a believable realism. In The Polish Officer, you find these stories in a seventeen-year-old Polish girl working at a wireless transmitter in a Paris warehouse. You find a gangly, bookish bomber pilot who unwittingly leads an attack to thwart the German landing at Dover. Furst is an amazing author and The Polish Officer is an awesome book.

Profile Image for T. Scott.
23 reviews
September 14, 2007
This book has a scene of such heartbreaking sadness, desperation, fragility and beauty that I think about it quite often. For those that have read it, it's the scene near the beginning with young girl who wants on the train. It says something about the impact of war on the innocent and something else that I can't quite put my finger on. It's small scenes like this which make his books so dependably good.
Profile Image for Alex Cantone.
Author 3 books34 followers
June 16, 2020
(de Milja) was getting tired of the four walls – could they out for a walk? She agreed to go. Scared as she was, she agreed. Strange, he thought, how you stumble on the world’s secret nobility when you are not even looking for them.

September 1939. As the Germans annex Poland, Captain Alexander de Milja, son of the Countess Ostrowa, now a cartographer with Polish Military Intelligence, is enlisted by Colonel Vyborg to requisition a local train of several carriages, ostensibly taking passengers fleeing from Warsaw, to smuggle the country’s gold reserves to Romania to prevent its seizure by the Nazis. Manned by an engineer and a fireman, lives are lost through a Stuka dive bomber attack from the air and Ukrainian bandits in the east of the country - highlighting the bravery of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Poland is partitioned under a pact between Hitler and Stalin – Germany needs raw materials from Russia for the war effort – transported through Poland by train. In Warsaw, de Milja gathers intelligence for the government in exile in Paris, until he is compromised, narrowly escaping with his life, and is smuggled to Sweden and then on to Paris to head operations there.

Told in a series of novellas, the reader follows his progress, with a backdrop of the retreat from Dunquerque, to the invasion plans to take Britain (culminating in the Battle of Britain) and de Milja is in Nieuwpoort, Belgium – taking refuge in the Hotel Vlaanderen with a prostitute and a Turkish seaman as a RAF Beaufort-IVF, flown by a Rhodesian bush pilot, batters the town’s defences.

Then back to Paris, his alias as a wealthy industrialist gives him access to the rail network, and a French mistress allows him entré into society and the black market. When again he is compromised and extracted to London, he is reassigned back to Poland to fight with fractured groups of the partisans, tasked with the rescue of resistance fighters imprisoned at Rovno. But with winter 1941 approaching, Hitler has ignored the mistake made by Napoleon, and is destined to repeat it. For de Milja, it becomes a matter of survival.

Writer Alan Furst excels at the historic espionage drama; beautifully crafted and well-researched (this one had me combing through the atlas), the reader’s imagination is caught and held throughout. His ability to portray a person’s clothing and demeanour in just a few sentences never fails to impress. Well recommended for lovers of spy novels, in which the hero relies on intellect rather than fire-power.
Profile Image for Robin Webster.
Author 2 books65 followers
May 15, 2014
The ‘Polish Officer’ follows the fortunes of Captain Alexander de Milja, from the fall of Poland in 1939 when he is recruited into the Polish underground to 1941, when he finds himself fighting alongside the partisans in the forests of the Ukraine. de Milja’s first mission is to take charge of the transportation of Poland’s gold reserves which are hidden on a refugee train heading for Bucharest. He then moves on to Paris just before the occupation, then acted as an intelligence officer before moving on to the Ukraine. There is no doubt that the author has much knowledge of the subject and there were some interesting snippets regarding the intelligence service in Paris and the tactics of the partisans in the Ukrainian forest. In fact there were a lot of good ideas, but far too many to fit into a book of 337 pages. I found that many, but not all the characters in the book were underdeveloped and for the most part the dialoge was just functional. I also felt it wasn’t the most well-paced book I have ever picked up and to me it read like a series of short stories. It’s a shame because I do read a lot of books on the subject of WW2. However, if I read a historical novel I do like the background facts to be right, but I also like it to centre on the characters and the interplay between them: Otherwise I’ll read a factual history book on the subject which I am also happy to do. However, someone who enjoys reading novels where the characters main function is to relay the events to the reader may have a different opinion.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews623 followers
September 3, 2012
As other reviewers have noted, this book seems to be an extreme example of Furst's tendency to offer disconnected episodes, or episodes whose connection is so oblique that it's hard to perceive. Furst's novels are really starting to run together for me, so even though I like this author a lot, I'll probably give it a rest for a while before I read another one. I'd like to see him follow a character through a significant change of heart, or through the end of the war, or have him develop a character more deeply generally, since he tends to offer us unknowable, taciturn men--though I suppose I should be careful about calling for a favorite author to extend himself, since that's clearly how we ended up with The Twelfth Enchantment. For the record, I think Furst's best are Dark Star, which is longest and most involved, or The Foreign Correspondent which uses a newspaperman to good effect.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,690 followers
July 6, 2013
There are certain historical truths that can only be teased out of the past with a fiction narrative build on the skeleton of the past. There are hidden truths that are exposed only with a story, with fiction, with literature. Alan Furst's war and pre-war espionage novels do that. His novels flesh out more about the people who fight, suffer and die in war than most straight academic histories can ever hope to give to the reader.

You finish an Alan Furst novel tasting the blood and the smoke, body black with soot, blinded by the fiery lights, frozen by the cold, heart sick by all the death of war. Into this setting, Furst inserts little glimmers of caritas, humor, and love. He isn't prepared to make the entire world, even a world that is mewed in the machinery of war, devoid of humanity. There are flowers to smell, food to enjoy and even soft women to touch. It is sad but beautiful and that is sometimes just enough.
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 14 books96 followers
January 24, 2017
The Polish Officer, a novel published by Alan Furst twenty years ago, is an excellent study in the vagaries of Polish history, defined so much by being trapped between Germany and Russia. More than that, this is a novel replete with knowledge of WWII throughout Europe, with as much action occurring in France as Poland. Furst is a demon for historical detail, anecdote, and quirk. He creates splendidly foggy, smoky atmospheres and populates them with deadly serious, clever characters who could not, back then, get Europe right any more than Europeans today can get it right. (But Europe is still a wonderful subcontinent, and that's part of the reason I like Furst's books so much: they enable me to walk familiar streets via sentences if not sidewalks.)

Our officer, de Milja and we'll leave it at that, is a Polish cartographer who falls in with the Polish underground intelligence network. He's reliable, stoic, and resourceful. He does the kinds of things we all like to see happen: sabotages the Nazi war machine by engineering prison breaks, harbor mishaps, and air field miseries. Nothing on a grand scale, but this is just one man, after all, and in a wide-ranging war, a few hundred Polish officers like de Milja, contribute quite a bit of useful chaos -- striking at the Russians, too.

Some of the war details are are difficult to follow. At many points Furst is as nimble as de Milja in escaping narrative logjams, leaving the reader scratching his head as to how things quickly ended up here ... and here...and here. But resistance is not a systematic enterprise; it's an opportunistic enterprise; so we forgive Furst for what de Milja must do, much in demand as he is.

One of the amusing aspects of the book, unintentional, I suspect, is de Milja's luscious hard luck with women who keep making themselves available to him. This spices the storyline, but after a point, this man who otherwise suppresses all emotions begins to exhibit a suspiciously Hemingwayesque flare for melting sultry accomplices, so it's "here we go again" as soon as a new damsel or matron--all women are beautiful and desirable in the face of death--parachutes onto the page.

Oddly the most moving and restrained of de Milja's interactions with a woman comes at the very end. I won't spoil it, but it's a nice passage, particularly because he manages to use her as a reference point for recalling women he's lost and not adding to his list of heartaches as a new conquest.

As a stylist, Furst is good. He has a restrained but insistent cadence, very sure-footed. Again, he creates settings quickly and persuasively. And some of the situations he imposes on de Mija, whether by research or imagination, are exquisite. I particularly love a difficult truck journey up a tributary of the frozen Bug (maybe my favorite river name). Couldn't have happened.. but probably did.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,794 reviews221 followers
January 31, 2022
More Than A Spy Story

The protagonist of this WW II spy novel is Captain de Milja, a Polish officer who is recruited as part of the Polish underground resistance following the fall of Warsaw to the Nazis in 1939. De Milja is a man of few words, perceptive, hard, unafraid of danger, and able to adjust to new situations. He also has no difficulty in attracting women and has several lovers, of varying duration, to accompany him through his adventures. His wife, to whom he is devoted, dies midway through the book.

This novel tells the stories of de Milja's experiences as a spy in Warsaw, Paris and the Ukraine. It is episodic in character with each unit of the story essentially self-contained. The writing is fast-paced and hard-boiled as befitting a spy story. There were times when I thought the story flagged and lost my interest.

Alan Furst knows has subject matter and depicts well the fall of Warsaw and Paris and the activities of the Partisans in the Ukraine. The Nazi's failed invasions of Britain and the U.S.S.R. form the backdrop of the book and they are well-conveyed. I found the middle sections of the book the most interesting with good depictions of people and places, particularly low life in Paris.
The book is good to read because of the perspective it brings to WW II which is both unusual and realistic. The book is somewhat more than a spy novel due to Furst's attempt to develop and show growth in the character of his hero. This development occurs in the final section of the book which explores the confusing world of conflicting partisan resistance movements in the Ukraine. Oddly enough, the plotting and spying in this section are, to me, the weakest in the book.

De Milja changes in this way. In the prior sections of the story, Furst establishes him as a lover and a ladies man. There are occasions when De Milja takes a mistress in part to save his cover and many other occasions where he takes a lover only because he wants to do so. The connection between spying and amorous activities is an established one. There are tensions and risks in this line of work, and surely a feeling that one must enjoy what one can.

In the final chapter of the book, de Milja meets a young woman refuge named Sasha. She is not particularly beautiful or talented, but she is fleeing for her life, she is vulnerable, and she is available. De Milja saves her life, through great peril. Sasha lets it be known that she would be willing to, perhaps even interested in, sex with De Milja as they weave their way through danger.
Furst makes a great deal of de Milja not availing himself of this opportunity. (Even though de Milja and Sasha need to bundle together in a car to keep warm at night.) I think this shows a development in de Milja's character from the rather free-wheeling womanizer he is in the earlier sections of the book. It also shows that he has developed some sense of looking at his female companion as an individual rather than as a pawn in a global game of war. I think we are meant to see de Milja as developing a quality of compassion in this portion of the story and a sense of connectedness to another person. He is willing to forgo sex, even when it is offered, welcome, and not even illicit in order to bring Sasha and himself to safety. It is buried in lots of war detail and not really prepared for during the body of the novel, but Furst shows development in the character of his hero.

This is why the book is more than a spy story.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Beto.
105 reviews25 followers
January 5, 2015
Não estando ambientado com este tipo de literatura, para minha grande surpresa porque iniciei-a com base nas pontuações e opiniões aqui da Goodreads, confesso que, depois de lido o livro, dificilmente investirei noutro trabalho de Alan Frust.

Infelizmente não foi uma leitura prazerosa. Tenho a dizer que, da minha parte, não gostei muito da abordagem do autor. Não conhecendo nenhum dos seus trabalhos, a ideia de espionagem é vendida de forma barata na apresentação e caracterização do livro. Sendo o que eu penso, não trata de espionagem mas sim de um relato histórico-fictício de parte da II Grande Guerra que, como âmago de um enredo pouco acolhedor e atraente, desenrola como linha condutora (e digamos que também como única motivação para a leitura!!!) um soldado/cidadão/fugitivo polaco clandestino (não um espião!!!). Foi esta personagem que, assumindo a Guerra como a razão atual da sua existência e como seu último feito de vida, me fez boiar nas “águas frias” deste livro.

Assim sendo, penso que este livro peca na concretização da sua sedução, pois alguém que espere de facto uma leitura assente no tema espionagem, só por aí, ficará desiludido ou, pelo menos, sentirá um desajuste.

Com poucas passagens do género, existem algumas passagens do livro que são interessantes e chegam a despertar para a continuidade da leitura, essencialmente aquelas que são capazes de criar um clima simples de sexualidade, suspense e horror da guerra (ambiente físico e psicológico). Contudo, como já o disse, não são muitas essas passagens; e a desilusão é ainda maior quando no total estamos de falar de 352 páginas - logo se percebe que as considero injustificadas e torturantes visto que, num livro do género, sempre esperava mais um e um novo sopro de agitação/drama/ansiedade pois estava diante do palco da II Grande Guerra.

Conforme fui dando a entender ao longo da leitura: espera-se acção, encontra-se apatia; espera-se espionagem, encontram-se fugitivos; espera-se um bom livro, encontra-se um texto que pouco mastiga o tema.

Interpretações destas acontecem diversas vezes e, não sendo eu um “conhecedor e familiar” do género, posso estar a ser redondamente atraiçoado pela minha falta de entrosamento. Todavia, até prova do contrário, não regressarei a Alan Frust.
Profile Image for John Caviglia.
Author 1 book27 followers
August 20, 2014
Espionage at its deepest, darkest best.

Though crafted from tissues of cunning and deceit—as such novels are—The Polish Officer is less the kind of chess game played with human pawns often depicted in this genre, than an exploration of the price and meaning of survival … less a novel concerning spy craft than a perspective announced by the title itself. As a Pole, the main character, De Milja, plants his feet on a land bloodied by the battles between East and West since the time of Genghis Khan—a land that looks, like Janus, in both directions. As a Pole, he has both East and West in him (with their languages). As a Pole living World War II, in an excruciating way, he is a man inhabiting a kind of no man’s land. And his statelessness is compounded by his Jewishness. Emptied of place, an outsider everywhere, De Milja has all it takes to be a spy.

Never mind the plot, which—to the degree that it exists—is picaresque. That is, after becoming a spy more or less by accident, the hero progresses from adventure to episode, crisis to escape, surviving this barrage of war and espionage both by dint of wit and the courage of those who have only life left to risk. Here I quote De Milja: “The fight against despair, he told himself, was just another way of fighting Germany.”

War mixes things up, making for strange bedfellows. Espionage crams a second blender into that stew, so that in this novel, most of the hero’s “bedfellows” are indeed strange, including those he takes to bed. Genya Bielis, of uncertain name, is one, who, despite her beauty has complicated bloodlines, an intricate past, and a future which requires her to leave him—should she survive. And there are others, including the woman of the novel’s end. The fact that she is a prostitute says much, if not all. This novel narrates the complex price that the courage of survival can mean in times of war.

This is my third Furst … and favorite, so far.
Profile Image for Toby McMillen.
132 reviews6 followers
January 28, 2008
One of my favorite of Furst's books, this is a great look into the war from the viewpoint of the Poles; who writes about that? Like many Furst books this one ends up in Paris, which is never a bad place for a book setting, and de Milja is a great character. The events portrayed in the book have the feeling of historical fiction; while they may not be true, they make me smell, feel, & taste the time.
Profile Image for Bibliophile.
760 reviews39 followers
January 7, 2009
The Polish Officer encapsulates all that is both excellent and maddening about Alan Furst's spy novels. First, the excellent parts: He is a master of building atmosphere and creating the sense that you are really there during the fall of Poland in 1939, and it's evident that he's done meticulous research (although, on the off chance that any of his editors ever read this, the German word is "Träger" not Trager, and its plural is the same so I guess he hasn't done the same research on the German language that he has on, say, what was playing in the cinemas of occupied Nantes in 1940.)

On the maddening side, Alexander de Milja, the titular Polish officer, is another one of Furst's frustratingly opaque characters whose motivations and inner life are as impossible to discern after 200 pages in his company as they were on page one. And he's the best-realized of the characters in the novel. If you're going to pay so little attention to character, then you need to have a great plot ... and the novel fails on that count too - there are tons of subplots that go nowhere and lots of mind-numbingly boring detail about everything that makes the book seem much longer than its slender size (Furst lists as one of his literary inspirations Eric Ambler, but I've read Ambler and HE HAS PLOTS!) and then the novel just sort of ends. At that point, I don't even care, to be honest! I suspect that in a couple of days, like every other Furst novel I've read, I will not remember who the main character was or what he was doing - they all blur together like so many patches of atmospheric film noir fog.
Profile Image for Anne.
127 reviews
February 18, 2009
Actually I now have either read all of his books or the library will send on the last 2 in a few days. That will make 7 in a week. I don't know why I'm obsessed with these spy novels by Furst, but maybe because we were in and out of these countries in eastern Europe several years ago, only a few days here and there, just as the characters cross back and forth between borders. The various countries portrayed in the short time before the US entered WWII blended together in ways that were interesting--winding village and city streets, centuries of history, pride of the people, yet the countryside felt very similar. Certainly Prague isn't Vienna or Bratislava or Budapest, or any of those quaint German villages, but you can palpably feel the distance from Europe, from Paris. I love that Faust's people/patriots say the hell with it and do what they must in the various resistance movements. I love that the hero in every book survives against all odds. I now have to go back to my Palmer (college text) and see what it says about Spain and Hungary and examine again exactly how those borders changed from 1914 on, and how the treaties failed.
I do remember the anger I felt when a guide in Austria said sarcastically that US bombers wiped out the nave in the cathedral but didn't get the windows because the people had buried them. Ah, nationalism is in all of us, and I wanted to give her a slap because after all, the Germans started it all. Besides, she was dressed in full woolen yodleling regalia and we were freezing on a rainy cold day in June.
Profile Image for Tom Meyer.
127 reviews8 followers
April 19, 2016
This is superior historical fiction: obviously well-researched, strongly narrated, with excellent characterization and some of the most effectively subtle prose I've ever encountered. If you can imagine the grit and lack of sentimentality of The Sandbaggers set in Poland during WWII, you're close.

The Polish Officer is the story of Captain Alexander de Milja, a military cartographer recruited into the Polish secret service at the 11th hour, literally as Warsaw burns around him. The novel follow de Milja as through various assignments throughout Europe, punctuated by love affairs, friendships, betrayals, suspense, and death -- always death, which lurks behind every page. Most of the characters in this book are intelligent and worldly enough to realize when an assignment is likely to bring a death sentence and the inverse dramatic irony is phenomenally affecting.

I wondered throughout how he was going to end the novel, as I couldn't tell where Furst was going with all this (it only stood to reason that someone of his skill had to be leading the reader somewhere
Profile Image for Bryan Alexander.
Author 4 books277 followers
February 8, 2016
Another good example of "historical spy thriller".
Furst takes the title character on a tour of war-torn Europe from 1939 'til about 1942, from the fall of Poland to the Nazi-Soviet war.
Our point of view character is quiet yet effective, a good narrative place for the reader to lodge.
Furst excels at one-off small portraits of many minor characters we briefly meet.
Profile Image for Dvora Treisman.
Author 1 book22 followers
June 27, 2021
Deeply disappointed after all the exuberant reviews. I didn't like his writing style which consisted of far too many sentence fragments, or incomplete sentences, or whatever you call them. Used sparingly they can have an effect. But used all the time they become annoying -- at least they did to me.

The plot was OK, ho hum. It started out so-so and then petered out. Why go to so much trouble and loss to save that sargeant if only to learn his story? It wasn't much of a story -- certainly no useful information. Many plot elements didn't hold up well. I guess that's the price you pay for reading so many non-fiction secret agent/spy stories. The real ones make the fictional ones look very pale. I did get to the end, but it was a race to finish so I could go on to something else.

I must add something after reading some of the other reviews. What this book does do is give a background of the war that many others do not -- what the Polish government and people did, how Poland and Russia and Germany related to each other. Most books written from the viewpoint of the West do not bring in the viewpoint of the East.
Profile Image for Jose Ignacio.
17 reviews2 followers
January 7, 2017
The action unfolds between September 1939 and November 1941 and tells the story of captain Alexander de Milja, a cartographer by trade. It all begins when Poland is being invaded by German Nazi forces. ‘Captain de Milja was a soldier, he knew he didn’t have long to live. And, in truth, he didn’t care. He was not in love with life. One or two things had to be taken care of, then matters could run their course.’ Within this context, colonel Anton Vyborg requests the presence of captain de Milja. The situation is clear, there are fifty-two German divisions in Poland. The Polish air force has been blown up on the ground. France and England have declared war, and made gestures, but Poland was expecting more. America is neutral and disinterested. As usual Poland is alone. Even worse, Stalin has forty division on their eastern border and everything seems to indicate an imminent attack. The Polish communications system has ceased functioning. But this is Poland and, at least for them, all is not necessary lost. Colonel Vyborg offers captain de Milja a job. He emphasizes he has a choice. He can either go out to one of the regular combat divisions to die on battlefield or join them to work in the intelligence service. What follows is the different tasks that he will have to carry out first in Romania, then in the German-occupied Paris and, finally, in Ukraine.

The Polish Officer is the third instalment in a book series known as Night Soldiers. So far it is composed of fourteen books, the last one, A Hero of France was published by Random House in 2016. My review is here. It might be misleading to consider them a series. Actually they are a set of independent espionage novels with a common denominator, its action takes place in Europe in the years between 1933 and 1942. It isn’t quite right, either, to consider these books as thrillers or spy novels. They are rather historical novels, very well documented and with a great amount of depth. The Polish Officer is written in the third person through independent snapshots, like in a mosaic, thus providing a comprehensive overview of Europe in those days and paying particular attention to detail. The emphasis is sometimes placed on events that are not always well-known, but which need to be rescued for them to remain in our collective memory. It also has superb descriptions of landscapes and captures amazingly well the atmosphere of the sites and places where the action unfolds. Alan Furst novels are sometimes criticised for their lack of a proper ending. But in fact, it is their open ending which makes more appealing its reading in my view. In short, The Polish Officer is a superb literary work that reproduces in great detail a critical era in the construction of Europe.
Profile Image for Stephen.
652 reviews15 followers
June 24, 2017
Episodic but thrilling, steeped in atmosphere. The main character is part Marcus Aurelius, part "Mission [Almost] Impossible." The book does not have the psychological depth of some full-lengthers in the genre (e.g The Human Factor or The Little Drummer Girl . Everything is transient and moving on. Full of good cameos This is a better novel than some I have rated with five stars where the last half star is for sheer fondness. I relished it and respect its craftsmanship .
Profile Image for Lance Charnes.
Author 7 books90 followers
January 20, 2019
Alan Furst is my writing hero: he writes about obscure people in obscure places doing obscure things to each other in an obscure time, and he makes it fascinating. He owns the 1930s Mitteleuropa spy genre. While I believe he's written only one true sequel, all his books can be considered part of the same larger story: the dark, messy collision of nations and ideologies in a war-haunted Europe that eventually led to World War II.

Leading The Polish Officer is a typical Furst protagonist: Alexander de Milja, a moderately-privileged military officer/sophisticate who becomes enmeshed in the shadow war between Poland, Germany and Russia at the dawn of WWII. As is also typical of Furst, de Milja comes to grips with a tangle of shady characters whose loyalties are often uncertain and usually shifting. This is spy noir of the sort Le Carre plumbed in his Cold War novels.

Furst's characterizations are deft with sparing use of the brush. While his settings are often sparsely described, the wealth of tiny workaday details -- the cost of a tram ticket, the color of a delivery wagon, the ads in a second-rank newspaper -- makes these settings come alive. Furst makes great use of period newspapers and periodicals in his research, and it shows without bogging down the proceedings with overcooked descriptions. His prose is often austere without being meager.

The Polish Officer was my introduction to Furst and is still one of my favorites of his works. If you've never read any of his books, this one or The World at Night are your best places to start. If you have already discovered Furst and haven't read this one, well, get cracking.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,287 reviews422 followers
November 13, 2014
The more I read, the more I learn. I had often heard of the French Resistance of WWII, but somehow that there was a Polish Resistance escaped me. Following up on my reading of The Polish Officer, I now learn that the Polish Resistance was the largest of such organizations during this war.

Alan Furst, who says he writes “near history”, gives us Alexander de Milja as the means by which we see the activities of the Polish Resistance from the time of Germany occupying Warsaw to mid-1941. While there is plenty of action, I think it is more literary than other spy/thrillers I have read - almost, but perhaps not quite, literature. Captain de Milja becomes real on the page. Furst has researched his period of “near history” thoroughly, so that I googled to see if this minor character of the Resistance was a real-life character. No, but could have been it seemed.

My understanding is that all of the books in the Night Soldiers series are stand alone and can be read in any order. Apparently there are characters that appear in more than one volume. I will read them in order – because I can – but not because I think I will remember one character from one book to the next. I won’t, primarily because I won’t read them close enough to each other for that. But I am taken enough with them that I hope to find time for them all.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
621 reviews21 followers
March 24, 2012
Furst has a gift for making his main characters extremely distinctive despite all operating at roughly the same time and space. Alexander de Milja, the title character of The Polish Officer is memorable indeed: aristocratic, resigned to death, and very good at being more than one person when necessary. The book involves several dramatic set-pieces (a tense and violent train journey fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland; a nighttime harbor bombing; a desperate jail break) and explores the untenable situation of Poland in World War Two, caught between the pincers of the Nazis and the Soviets. De Milja's character arc is understated and enjoyable, and the book is as usual full of fun little call-backs to his other books (I noticed this time that he blew up the ship that the hero of Dark Star was traveling on at the beginning of his book).
Profile Image for Jae.
45 reviews
November 4, 2009
I really am having a hard time reading this, it is just not good. The other book I read by Furst was ok. The subject matter for this book seems as it could be good...but it is falling flat. As much as I hate to , I might have to leave this partially read.
Profile Image for Levi.
32 reviews2 followers
November 23, 2008
I could never get into this book. The writing style was slow and uninspiring. The plot mundane and the characters poorly developed.
Profile Image for Momruns5.
1,375 reviews5 followers
October 29, 2010
It was really cold. Didn't really get to know any of the characters. Just like a report.
Profile Image for Pamela Shropshire.
1,297 reviews55 followers
March 10, 2022
I enjoyed this book every bit as much as the first two. The main character — the titular Polish officer, Alexander de Milja - is the product of a marriage between a Polish intellectual and Polish aristocracy and was formerly a cartographer by profession. When it was obvious the Polish military was defeated, de Milja is asked to become an intelligence agent; in other words, a spy. So the reader follows de Milja as he escapes from Poland with $11M gold from the national treasury (which actually happened IRL); works with the French resistance; a desk job in London; and eventually back to Poland and into Russia with Hitler’s invasion of Russia.

As with many books I enjoy, the things I enjoy most about this series is the historical setting and the characters. Reading an historical novel always prompts me to dig into the real history of the time and place. In this book, one of my favorite minor characters was Shura, the Polish Jewish woman de Milja meets during his time with the Polish/Russian partisans in the forest. I’ve read many biographies and autobiographies of real women like her; every Jewish person who survived the Holocaust has a Story.
Profile Image for Greta.
843 reviews4 followers
May 30, 2022
The mysterious web of special agents, spies, patriots, multiple foreign governments, coded communication, discovery then veto of plans. The world of The Polish Officer is complicated, intense, dangerous, confusing, but very worthwhile for the man who wants to stop Hilter after the French have managed to occupy Paris.
36 reviews
August 11, 2022
The Polish Officer is one of Alan Furst's best novels of late 1930's espionage in Europe- it's moody, atmospheric, and frankly erotic in spots too. The story is infused with the tension that comes with living a life under a false identity, always one step ahead of the Gestapo. The scene of a British air raid on a German-occupied port is a masterpiece of laconic action writing.
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