Alan Furst, ed., The Book of Spies: Anthology of Literary Espionage (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 374 pp., $24.95.
Alan Furst, Dark Voyage (New York: Random House, 2004), 256 pp., $24.95.
Blood of Victory (2003), 272 pp., $12.95.
Kingdom of Shadows (2001), 272 pp., $11.95.
Red Gold (2002), 288 pp., $11.95.
The World at Night (2002,) 288 pp., $11.95.
The Polish Officer (2001), 304 pp., $12.95.
Dark Star (2002), 464 pp., $13.95.
Night Soldiers (2002), 480 pp., $13.95.
A new novel by Alan Furst has become an event. He has revitalized and perhaps even reinvented the genre of espionage fiction that had seemed to fade into irrelevance since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, he has devised a compelling new form for the historical novel, set in Europe's 20th-century Dark Ages, from 1933-45. Over the past 15 years or so, he has built up a body of work that has slowly but steadily moved from cult favorite to worshipfully reviewed and now to best-seller. Rather like the Napoleonic naval tales of Patrick O'Brian, Furst's novels have become an interesting cultural phenomenon, not least because his plots are less than riveting and his characters (particularly the women) often wooden or sketchily drawn. But Furst, it is widely agreed, is a writer of genius when it comes to atmosphere, that elusive but magical mix of mood and time and place.
"Third Arrondissement--the old Jewish quarter", begins one characteristic passage about Paris.
"Cobbled lanes and alleys, silence, deep shadow, Hebrew slogans chalked on the walls. Rue du Marchâ€š des Blancs-Manteaux, the smell of onions frying in chicken fat made Casson weak at the knees. He'd been living on bread and margarine and miniature packets of Bouillon Zip when he could afford the fifty centimes."