Sunday, November 18, 2012

Alan Furst writes another wonderful thriller.

Who can resist a new novel by Alan Furst?  This one is as good as any.

Mission to Paris

True to form as the novelist-historian of World War II, Alan Furst approaches the war from a new perspective in Mission to Paris (272 pages, Random House, $27).  The story focuses on a Hollywood actor, of Austrian extraction, who is sent to Paris just before the outbreak of the war.  It seems that the powers that be in Hollywood thought an anti-war film would be a good idea.  The Nazi spies, or one can hardly call them spies, the Nazi officials in Paris at this time thought that an Austrian actor could be very useful to their purposes and they decided to use him and dispose of him, as they were already doing to so many.

Frederic Stahl is suspicious about the Germans who are wining and dining him, however, and he finds their political pronouncements increasingly distasteful.  So much so that he approaches the American embassy and talks to someone of considerable importance there.  When it seems that he is dissatisfied with the advice that he not worry, he is asked whether he would like to serve a more important function.  When he jumps to that offer, his role as a spy is initiated.

Furst makes all the details of this tale bristle with life.  When Stahl is dealing with the smarmy and self-assured Germans, it is easy to feel his disgust; and as he carries out simple, but exceedingly dangerous activities, his excitement is palpable.  Furst is clearly having fun with his subject here, and there is every reason that he should.

When it turns out that Stahl, the vague and under impressive actor, has outsmarted the Nazis, even after they have had him in the German capitol and have (they thought) nearly persuaded him to return to Germany,  they refuse to believe that they have been outsmarted. But Stahl and his American supporters have the last laugh.  The ending is almost funny.

Furst is at his best here, and this is a novel to enjoy.  Like his other successes, this one places him easily in the company of the great thriller novelists of the twentieth century, like John Le Carré and Graham Greene.  He is quickly earning his own place as one of the great novelists of the twenty-first century.

Alan Furst

Mission to Paris is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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