Novel: Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Alan Furst writes brilliant historical espionage novels set just before, during, and after the Second World War. His latest, Mission to Paris (2012), is another fast, highly satisfying read. Here Furst indulges his passion for the city of Paris with a novel that focuses on Germany’s systematic pre-war political warfare campaign against France, designed to destroy France’s will to resist Nazi dominance of Europe. The viewpoint character is Hollywood actor Fredric Stahl, a Slovenian expatriate who journeys to Paris in 1938 to shoot a motion picture for Warner Bros. Stahl’s casual dislike of Nazism grows more intense as he witnesses its insidious effect on the people of Paris. And when the German propaganda machine targets him, hoping to use his fame to influence public opinion, he’s surprised to find himself defying them, with the assistance of clandestine anti-isolationist sympathizers from the United States.

It’s another beautifully written, engrossing chapter in Furst’s ongoing series, as usual an insightful window into the past. Furst’s love for and knowledge of Paris is impressive. While the thematic territory, setting, and plot are again familiar, the film industry milieu gives it a slightly different spin; it’s like a prose Casablanca, evoking the classic black-and-white films of its era. Stahl is a likable hero, and he’s surrounded by memorable allies and enemies, but as usual the strongest character is the setting: Paris in specific, but World War II Europe in general. Mission to Paris lacks an epic finale; its ending feels anticlimactic, in fact, which left me feeling this is perhaps a lesser entry. But its final passages have quiet power, and I can’t say I feel disappointed; yet another success, in my book.

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