four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
By: 
Alan Furst
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
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AF-SpiesWarsawWith The Spies of Warsaw, the tenth in the Night Soldiers cycle, Alan Furst reprises his vision of Europe before and during World War II.

The Story: In 1937, Poland is precariously sandwiched between Germany and the Soviet Union. That makes it a perfect place for spies to gather information. Colonel Jean-François Mercier, a French aristocrat, is named military attaché to Poland. Mercier’s prime asset, Edvard Uhl, a German engineer and family man only too happy to travel regularly to Warsaw to visit his mistress, can give Mercier valuable German war plans. But Mercier is just one player in a complex web of espionage, treachery, and resistance for a Europe facing unprecedented change. An admonition that pulls tight the various threads in Spies of Warsaw and informs all of Furst’s fiction: "Know your enemies, know your friends, avoid surprise at all costs."
Harcourt. 266 pages. $25. ISBN: 1400066026

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"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 and to fall in love with those Romantic impulses that compel men and women to act beyond their self-interests." Jonathan Shapiro

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"As always in his novels, Furst guides his readers through what may be unfamiliar territory—so cleverly that you may not realize he has done so, often by reporting the book, the document, the newspaper story that Mercier is reading." Michael Kenney

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[The Spies of Warsaw] is, like its predecessors, highly enjoyable, particularly in the author’s remarkable and justifiably praised ability to evoke a vanished era. … The author skillfully weaves in political and social information about the times, garnishing this with technical data about armaments and spy establishments, as well as with quotidian details like the activities of a railway stationmaster or the sound of a steam-powered train as it traverses a bridge over a river." Roger K. Miller

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Like Graham Greene’s Greenland, Furst has brought us in these novels an exotic world of sex and intrigue that is instantly recognizable as Furstland. The Spies of Warsaw adds another layer to the world he has created, and this engaging historical fiction should be read by anyone who loves a compelling story well told." Steven E. Alford

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"As always, but with especially great efficacy in The Spies of Warsaw, Mr. Furst asks how life can go on in the face of encroaching menace. And in the book’s uncommonly fine-tuned portrait of Mercier, it has some kind of answer." Janet Maslin

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Alan Furst’s 10th espionage novel set on the eve of World War II is one of his best, offering a subtly drawn, engaging hero, a plot that turns on authentic details of the Nazi plan for blitzkrieg, and one of Furst’s most believable love affairs. The author spins out web after silken web of elegant prose, tangling up his readers in a lost time and place." Peter B. King

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The trouble isn’t simply that we know the tragic outcome of the events portrayed. … In the end, Furst’s thriller shorthand undercuts character development." Dan Cryer

Critical Summary

With The Spies of Warsaw, Furst continues to assert himself as the contemporary master of historical espionage. Although he has condensed his vision in recent efforts, Furst’s latest combines a relentless verisimilitude with intricate plotting and well-drawn characters. That attention to character, however, was a double-edged sword for critics: too much character development, and the plot suffers; too many plot twists, and the characters become cardboard cutouts. By creating atmospheric, complex, and often open-ended novels that reflect the ambivalence of the period and the humanity of characters who are too often lost to history, Furst gets high marks for remaining true to his original intention when he began writing historical espionage two decades ago.