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The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
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's review
Jun 28, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read in June, 2008

Alan Furst is a genre master, historical spy novels set in the 30s and early 40s, whose sense of history comes from Tolstoy and understanding of the scale of human drama comes from the short stories of Chekov and Joyce. Furst’s novels are compact. The action occurs on the margins of great events. They have the ring of truth in their every detail, whether it’s a period detail or the details of how real events play out with small climaxes and anti-climaxes. The tales remain satisfying because even though the end isn’t one of Hollywood splash (your exploding triumph), the scale is personal so there is relief in survival, in small victories of hard-earned knowledge and grace under fire.

Each Furst novel is, if not better than its predecessor at least as good. I’ve read six or seven of the ten he’s written. The Spies of Warsaw is one of the ones that is simply as good as its predecessors, not better. A French military attaché in Warsaw works with the Poles and Russians to learn more about Nazi war plans. The plot is complemented by a love story and complicated by a vendetta from a Nazi thug who takes personally Colonel Mercier’s interruption of his kidnapping of a German source. Not to give away the end because history does that, the French are convinced that the Germans can be thwarted if not deterred by the Maginot Line. Mercier discovers that there is no evidence in German armaments or maneuvers to suggest that the Germans are planning to contend with the Maginot Line. Instead their preparations seem aimed at something more shall we say Belgian. So Mercier’s information, which should blow the whistle on things, has the surprisingly opposite effect, convincing France’s war staff and politicians of their original position. Mercier’s information is a clever Nazi plot to mislead the French—no evidence becomes evidence. (Echoes of Iraq anyone?) Furst’s writing is wonderfully spare and precise, evocative without straining for effect. His dialogue is crisp and real. The storytelling intelligent. It’s a very good book.
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