Review: The Spies of Warsaw, by Alan Furst

Here’s all you need to know: There’s a new Alan Furst novel out, and he’s at the top of his game.

Furst has become the absolute master of evoking a singular period in time and place: that murky, shifting, ominous period right before World War II, as lived in the various capitals of Europe.

His plots can be wispy; if you’re looking for supposedly thrilling final scenes of shootouts or ticking bombs that need to be defused while busty blondes look on, you’re in the wrong place. But his descriptions of 1930s Europe – the people, the hotels and the trains (always the trains) – are entertaining and enthralling as hell.

He’s written ten such books in the last 20 years (They’re not a series, so you don’t have to start at the beginning), and his latest, The Spies of Warsaw, is among his best.

Jean-Francois Mercier is a Great War vet, now posted as a French intelligence officer in Warsaw, who is disillusioned and bored trading small talk and gossip with the stultified Polish upper-class society he has to live in.

But then he falls in love; he deals with an inept Nazi out to get him; he stumbles on some Very Important information. In Furst’s world of shadows, though, he learns nothing is black and white.

Again, plotting is secondary to atmosphere, and no one does the atmosphere of this era better than Furst.

If you haven’t checked him out yet, do so immediately. If you’re wondering whether he shows any signs of slipping with his latest effort, rest assured he has not. – Richard Connelly

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