Alan Furst, Midnight in Europe, 2014.
Alan Furst’s latest period spy novel, Midnight in Europe, caught my eye quite by accident while I was at my local library in early October. I had not remembered that Furst had published a new book in his long-lived World War Two era “series” last June, so when I saw the cover I thought “well, that looks like a Furst,” and sure enough, it was.
As I’ve mentioned before, a colleague introduced me to Furst and I immediately was taken in by the characters, environs, and the era. As a student and instructor of history, I’ve long been fascinated by compelling and successful novels that help illustrate a period in time. Alan Furst creates, not unlike John le Carre, vivid worlds of espionage, secrets, failed trust, and lovers.
Midnight in Europe is no exception as we meet Catalan refugee Cristian Ferrar, international attorney and Parisian resident, along with former arms dealer Max de Lyon, and a host of other characters, some new, some familiar. Furst populates his novels with people and locations who “overlap” one another, so in Midnight we re-visit Brasserie Heininger and spend time with Count Polanyi, a Hungarian diplomat. It’s rather like re-visiting a comfortable neighborhood, even in cases when Furst is laying the base for some very tense story-telling.
While Midnight did not impress me the same way in which earlier novels like Night Soldiers or The World at Night did it still allows one to envision pre-World War Two Europe in all its romanticism and tension. Ferrar’s trips into Nazi Germany, his planning for the future as his homeland (Spain) falls to the fascist Francisco Franco (who is these days, is still dead), and the introduction of the United States more fully into the story line are all intriguing.
Part of what Furst has done successfully over the years is give readers insight into the lives of those at the fringes of the “typical” World War Two narrative. So in Midnight we meet a Catalan, Spanish citizens fighting off fascism, a Russian Jew who has lived all over the continent, Greeks, Hungarians, and more. These individuals are all facing the coming changes in mid 1930s Europe and, in some instances saying their farewells – it can be touching how Furst portrays these tough men (laborers, criminals, dockyard workers, etc.) acknowledging that their homes are about to explode and many may never see one another again. One could do worse when trying to unravel interwar politics than to pick up books such as Midnight.
postscript – I’ve also been reminded that the BBC produced a version of Furst’s Spies of Warsaw starring David Tennant as the lead. Seems as though I need to check out Hulu+ and give the series a whirl.