Furst, Alan - 'Midnight in Europe'
Hardback: 320 pages (June 2014) Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN: 0297863959
"... There is nothing worse than a civil war. In time they stop fighting and someone declares victory, but a civil war never ends."
Manhattan, 15 December, 1937
Evening, and snow is falling on Fifth Avenue as Christian Ferrar, a partner in the Paris law firm of Coudert Frères, hurries towards a dinner date after a long day at the firm's New York offices. The New York Times in his briefcase tells him all he needs to know about the current state of of the world: war - both real and political - is beginning to tear it apart as an alliance of dictators threatens democracy in Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia. In his briefcase there are also two manilla envelopes from the arms-buying office of the Spanish Republic, which Ferrar has been entrusted to deliver to its Embassy in Paris. Ferrar, although raised and educated in France from the age of twelve, was born in Barcelona - a Catalan forced to flee Spain during the riots of 1909 alongside the rest of his family.
Madrid, 17 December, 1937
Castillo is uneasy in besieged, Communist-run Madrid; the Communists are hard-line and uninterested in nuance and explanations, a loyal Republican can still fall foul of their rules. But he felt he had no option but to travel here from Paris in order to rescue one of his agents. Although he thinks he has succeeded, Castillo, not cut out for a life of espionage, wants nothing more than to return to the safety of Paris. It is bad timing that sees him step into an alleyway and cross the path of a keen young guard who asks to see his papers.
Paris, 6 January, 1938
Ferrar is back in Paris and at the law firm's offices when Señor Molina, from the Embassy of the Spanish Republic, asks if he can meet with him. Over coffee, Molina delicately asks the lawyer if he would be willing to work full-time for the Republic's arms-buying wing. Ferrar explains that, as sole support of his family, he cannot think of leaving the law practice, however, if the occasion arises he would be happy to provide what help he can. Molina graciously accepts Ferrar's position and his offer. And when Molina does call for help, Ferrar - with colleague Max de Lyon - embarks on a clandestine journey through the choppy political and social cross-currents of a world on the edge of war, across Europe to Berlin, Warsaw, and the shores of the Black Sea...
Fans of Alan Furst will be familiar with his lengthy series of spy novels, set in Europe between 1933-44 and beginning with NIGHT SOLDIERS written in the late 1980s. In 2013 the BBC co-produced a successful television adaptation of his THE SPIES OF WARSAW starring David Tennant. With MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE the continent is on the brink of the Second World War. Spain is torn by a civil war between its elected government and Franco's rebel Nationalists and Stalin's nominal support for the beleaguered Republic is proving no match for the armed support given to Franco by his allies - Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. The book's central character, Christian Ferrar - an established and successful lawyer - enters the world of espionage by undertaking to secure ammunition for Spain’s Republican forces from a dubious Czech supplier. The story that develops sets out for us the complexity of contemporary politics in Europe and paints a world where trust has to be perpetually tested and strange alliances made. As Furst himself has said, it is also a time when "... Heroes and villains are sometimes indistinguishable, mainly … because most of Europe was scared to death."
A well-told story, coolly and smoothly written, MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE is not a book for fans of blood, weapons, and the physical violence of war. But if you value subtlety, duplicity, pathos and suspense; the complicated world of politics and patriotism; espionage spiced with "affaires" with beautiful women; and a story that conjures grainy black and white images of café interiors, trains, nightclubs, dock-sides and alleyways - it's all here to be read with great enjoyment.
Lynn Harvey, England
Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.
Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.