Novel: Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

Nobody writes historical espionage like Alan Furst, and his latest, Midnight in Europe (2014), is just as beautifully written as all the others, if perhaps less epic than usual. Cristian Ferrar is a Paris-based lawyer of Spanish descent, watching from afar with grim interest as Spain is torn apart by civil war in the late 1930s. Ferrar’s sympathies lie with the struggling Republic, so he gets involved by deploying his legal skills for a spy apparat dedicated to arming the Republic against the Nazi-backed Nationalists. In the process, he befriends a brave spy named Max de Lyon, falls in love with a Spanish marquesa, journeys to Poland to liberate a shipment of weapons, and contributes to the theft of anti-aircraft ammunition from a Russian warehouse.

Furst continues the trend of his later books by keeping a tighter focus: the scale’s smaller, and the timeframe shorter, than in the series’ earlier installments. It makes for a fast, bracing read, another realistic skulk through the streets of Europe in the lead-up to global conflagration. The series continues to follow tried-and-true formula, particularly in the build of the protagonist: Ferrar is principled, fortyish, worldly, romantic, very much the standard Furstian hero. At this stage, I wouldn’t mind seeing the author shift out of his comfort zone on this particular front.

Yet the novel still slots nicely into his canon, just as smooth and atmospheric and full of verisimilitude. It’s another interesting angle on the era, as usual, ingeniously intersecting with the places and characters of the earlier books. One imagines, at some point, that this series (now thirteen books strong) could be recut and recombined into a huge, comprehensive chronicle of the turbulent years of World War II. Midnight in Europe is perhaps less impressive on its own, but it’s still rewarding in the larger context of the author’s body of work.

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