By Ariel Pinsky
Fishing out a stimulating yet substantive summer novel from the sea of fluff out there can be difficult. “Midnight in Europe,” the latest installment in Alan Furst’s series of World War II espionage thrillers, will narrow your search for a quality summer read while offering an alluring look into the ominous, glamorous, pre-war Parisian society.
A master of historical spy fiction, Furst delivers another fast-paced and intriguing set of intertwined stories taking place from 1937 to 1938 across Europe, including Paris, Madrid, Istanbul, Munich and Odessa. Furst focuses on Christian Ferrar, a brilliant and respected lawyer working for the Courdet International Law Firm in Paris as a Spanish émigré.
As civil war rages in Spain between Franco’s Fascist forces and the Army of the Republic, Ferrar is summoned by the Spanish Embassy in Paris to join the mission of the Oficina Tecnica in helping to supply crucial weapons and ammunition to the weakening republic.
As Ferrar and partner Max de Lyon, a Jewish gangster, are faced with constant challenges on their quest for illegal weapons, the reader is thrust into multiple exotic environments and situations, all with one common element: an inescapable pre-war tension so thick you can feel it on the page.
For a moment Furst makes you forget that Spain will fall to Fascist Franco, France will be overrun by the Nazis, and Jewish Europeans like Max de Lyon will fight to stay out of the camps and ghettos.
As the darkness creeps through all corners of Europe, Furst instills fear and anxiety in the reader, making us question, just for a moment, “What will be of Europe?” But, alas, history ensures you are brutally reminded.
Some problems lie in the book’s outrageous supply of details. Because Furst does not provide clues as to which are significant to the story, the reader must decide which names, hotels, roads, restaurants and facts to remember. And the influx of characters and places becomes dizzying as new ones are introduced nearly every page.
However, the array of distinct and colorful people and places also helps Furst paint his complex and vibrant picture of pre-World War II Europe. He humanizes a world war by giving a story to each character, each road, each hotel and each town.
Though a particularly captivating read for history buffs and fans of the classic spy novel, “Midnight in Europe” will appeal to any reader’s sense of romance, danger and mystery.
Midnight in Europe
By Alan Furst
Random House, 272 pages, $16