‘Midnight in Europe:’ forces of darkness in pre-WWII Spain
Alan Furst’s new novel “Midnight in Europe” features a Spanish lawyer exiled to Paris, whose comfortable life ends when he agrees to help buy arms for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.
Special to The Seattle Times
“Midnight in Europe”
by Alan Furst
Random House, 272 pp., $27
Alan Furst’s intelligent espionage novels mine a rich source: Europe before and during World War II. “Frankly, my period, 1933-1944 is endless,” he once said. “No one will ever tell all the stories.”
It’s 1938, on the cusp of war. Hitler’s on the move, still a terrifying threat rather than an ever-present horror. Violence already grips Spain as Republican troops battle Gen. Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.
Spanish lawyer Christián Ferrar, based in Paris, has an agreeable life. But his world transforms when he’s recruited to help smuggle heavy artillery to the Republicans. So begins his journey across Europe, from seedy Parisian nightclubs to shadowy Istanbul and a thrilling moment that involves stealing a Polish train.
Superficially, Furst’s books resemble each other. They star ordinary men forced into decisive action by extraordinary times.
A single mission to deflect fascist power typically drives the plots. Iin a sense, nothing much happens — the author concentrates on atmosphere and his characters’ lives, not slam-bang action.
Inevitably, his books include a love affair and appreciation for the small pleasures in life — a strong espresso, a satisfying cigarette, the warmth of a Paris bistro in winter.
So what if the books are variations of a basic template? Formula here hardly means unimaginative.
But I would like to see the author stretch a bit. I’d especially relish a female protagonist. His women are strong supporting characters but deserve center stage. A book told from the viewpoint of a German — either soldier or civilian — would be fascinating.
Still, Furst remains one of the top dogs of spy fiction, right up there with John le Carré, Charles McCarry and others. And he’s got plenty of stories yet to tell.
Adam Woog reviews crime fiction the second Sunday of each month in The Seattle Times.