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<span class="h1"><strong>Guest Reviewer: Justin Cronin on <em>Mission to Paris</em> by Alan Furst</strong></span> <br /> <img height="320" src="http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/kindle/merch/rh/a/6-22/Cronin-Author-Photo._V144086879_.jpg" style="float: right; margin: 10px;" width="213" /><em><strong>Justin Cronin</strong> is the </em>New York Times<em> bestselling author of </em>The Passage, Mary and O’Neil<em> (which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize), and </em>The Summer Guest. <em>Other honors for his writing include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Whiting Writers’ Award. A Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Rice University, he divides his time between Houston, Texas, and Cape Code, Massachusetts.</em> <p>Fans of Alan Furst are a passionate lot, and I count myself among them. Put a group of Furst’s readers in a room, and before long they will be ardently advocating for their favorites (I always come out swinging for <em>The World at Night</em>), only to change their minds, and change them again, as they are reminded of an especially harrowing episode in <em>The Polish Officer</em>, or a perfect turn of phrase in <em>Blood of Victory</em>, or a sumptuous love scene in <em>The Spies of Warsaw</em>.</p> <p>So which of Furst’s novels is his best? In my opinion, it’s an eleven-way tie.</p> <p>Now, make that twelve.</p> <p>Furst’s elegant thrillers of World War II Europe are often grouped with the works Graham Greene and John le Carre for the literary quality of his prose. The comparison is apt, but Furst is really one of a kind: a novelist whose body of work has recast his genre, elevating it to the level of literature. He has a way of getting everything right, putting every sentence to flawless use with a compact, suggestive style. In just a few brush strokes, Furst can capture the essence of a character—man or woman, friend or foe, Gestapo officer or society doyenne—and his ability to evoke a setting makes me weep with envy. Furst’s foggy Paris streets and glittering salons aren’t just places we see; we actually seem to visit them, bathing in their rich atmospheres. When a Furst character steps into a café in the 16th Arrondissment, you can practically smell the Gauloises smoke wafting from the pages.</p> <p>But what truly sets Furst apart is his characters’ alignment with their circumstances. Like every great novelist, he understands that history is an overlay of private lives and public events, and therein lies the richest, most morally edifying human drama. Furst’s protagonists aren’t professional spies. Dashing, yes. Romantic, to be sure. Capable of the bon mot, without doubt. But in their hearts, they are men and women like the rest of us, adrift in the currents of their lives. It’s the exigencies of war, with all its political murk and unlikely gunpoint bedfellows, that ignite them to personal heroism. You can hear them saying, with existential fatalism, “Well, it’s been a marvelous life—wonderful food, sumptuous parties, and surprising nights of love—but I guess it’s over now. I’ll have to become something more. Count me in.”</p> <p><em>Mission to Paris</em> is trademark Furst, a book not merely to read but to luxuriate in. Vienna-born Fredric Stahl, nee Franz Stalka, is a Hollywood actor of modest renown sent to Paris to star in a French movie named, ironically, “Apres la Guerre” (“After the War”). The year is 1938; Hitler has just taken Czechoslovakia and set his sights on Poland. With his American connections, high profile, and Germanic ancestry, Stahl attracts the interest of the political arm of the Reich’s Foreign Ministry; their goal is to manipulate him into making a public declaration against French rearmament. Initially, all Stahl wants to do is enjoy his time in Paris, where fond memories and sensual adventures await, and finish his film, for which he has high hopes. But he can’t stay on the sidelines for long; the next thing he knows, he’s flying to Berlin to judge a film festival of nakedly propagandist “mountain movies,” with stacks of Swiss francs stuffed inside his suit to purchase Nazi secrets. The night he meets his contact—the glamorous Russian actress Olga Orlova, who proves surprisingly adept with a silencer—Stahl awakens to the smell of smoke and the sound of shattering glass: beyond the windows of his hotel room, <em>Kristallnacht</em> is in full swing.</p> <p>What happens then? Please. I’ve said too much as it is.</p> <p>Suffice to say that for Furst’s legion of the obsessed, the novel is everything we crave and more. And for newcomers—why there should still be any, I simply don’t know—it’s certain to send them back into his rich body of work, hungry for more.</p> <p></p>
It is the late summer of 1938, Europe is about to explode, the Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl is on his way to Paris to make a movie for Paramount France. The Nazis know he’s coming—a secret bureau within the Reich Foreign Ministry has for years been waging political warfare against France, using bribery, intimidation, and corrupt newspapers to weaken French morale and degrade France’s will to defend herself.<br> <br> For their purposes, Fredric Stahl is a perfect agent of influence, and they attack him. What they don’t know is that Stahl, horrified by the Nazi war on Jews and intellectuals, has become part of an informal spy service being run out of the American embassy in Paris.<br> <br> From Alan Furst, the bestselling author, often praised as the best spy novelist ever, comes a novel that’s truly hard to put down. <i>Mission to Paris</i> includes beautifully drawn scenes of romance and intimacy, and the novel is alive with extraordinary characters: the German Baroness von Reschke, a famous hostess deeply involved in Nazi clandestine operations; the assassins Herbert and Lothar; the Russian film actress and spy Olga Orlova; the Hungarian diplomat and spy, Count Janos Polanyi; along with the French cast of Stahl’s movie, German film producers, and the magnetic women in Stahl’s life, the socialite Kiki de Saint-Ange and the émigré Renate Steiner.<br> <br> But always at the center of the novel is the city of Paris, the heart and soul of Europe—its alleys and bistros, hotels grand and anonymous, and the Parisians, living every night as though it was their last. As always, Alan Furst brings to life both a dark time in history and the passion of the human hearts that fought to survive it.<br><br><b>Advance praise for <i>Mission to Paris</i></b><br> <b> </b><br> “The writing in <i>Mission to Paris,</i> sentence after sentence, page after page, is dazzling. If you are a John le Carré fan, this is definitely a novel for you.”—James Patterson<br> <br> “I am a huge fan of Alan Furst. Furst is the best in the business—the most talented espionage novelist of our generation.”—Vince Flynn<br> <br> <b>Praise for Alan Furst</b><br> <br> “Unfolds like a vivid dream . . . One couldn’t ask for a more engrossing novel.”<i>—The Wall Street Journal, </i>about<i> Spies of the Balkans</i><br> <i> </i><br> “Though set in a specific place and time, Furst’s books are like Chopin’s nocturnes: timeless, transcendent, universal. One does not so much read them as fall under their spell.”—<i>Los Angeles Times,</i> about<i> The Spies of Warsaw</i><br> <br> “Alan Furst’s novels swing a beam into the shadows at the edges of the great events leading to World War II. Readers come knowing he’ll deliver effortless narrative.”—<i>USA Today,</i> about <i>The Foreign Correspondent</i><br> <br> “Positively bristles with plot, characters and atmosphere . . . <i>Dark Voyage</i> has the ingredients of several genres—the mystery, the historical novel, the espionage thriller, the romance—but it rises above all of them.”—<i>The Washington Post,</i> about<i> Dark Voyage</i><br> <br> “No other espionage writer touches [Furst’s] stylish forays into Budapest and Berlin, Moscow and Paris. No other writer today captures so well the terror and absurdity of the spy, the shabby tension and ennui of émigré communities at the time. His characters are hopeless, lethal, charming. His voice is, above all, knowing.”—<i>Boston Sunday Globe,</i> about <i>Blood of Victory</i>