Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the Brink of Chaos: Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe is a very good historical spy novel by a veteran writer in the genre. Alan Furst’s novel begins in 1937 when Christian Ferrar is visiting New York on business for his internationally trusted law firm, Coudert Freres in Paris. The handsome, intelligent, 40 year old lawyer enjoys his work and finds time to treat himself well to the pleasures of life: good wine, food, women, and travel.

A Spanish émigré to France, Ferrar supports the Spanish Republic in its fight against Franco’s fascist government in the Spanish Civil War. There is a great deal of turmoil in Europe in 1937 including Hitler’s increasing harassment of Jews (and other ethnic groups) and the continuing rise of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy.

When Ferrar returns to Paris and resumes his legal work for wealthy clients, he is brought increasingly into the politics of intrigue and paranoia of Europe on the brink of chaos. The focus of Christian’s political interest is on supporting the Spanish Republic in their war efforts by helping the army to obtain weapons. He does keep an eye on the safety of his extended family who live in a town close to Paris.

In his interactions with an international player in criminal and espionage operations, Max DeLeon, Ferrar has a number of adventures that take him to dangerous areas of Europe. His work with Coudert Freres provides some cover for his covert work with Max. In Berlin, Ferrar and Max conduct business with a very frightened arms dealer in a safe house run by a woman with anti-fascist connections. The Berlin Staatspolizei come close to shutting down Max and Ferrar’s operation, and the two are investigated as spies against the Reich.

To arrange shipping of weapons, Max and Ferrar travel to Warsaw. Again, they are confronted by fascist authorities and risk imprisonment and execution. Max has a history of engaging in high stakes risky business while Ferrar is a novice. Ferrar shows that he is not only handsome, intelligent, and hedonistic, but is also persistent and courageous, demonstrating grace and resourcefulness in life threatening circumstances.

Ferrar has an interlude with a Comtessa who may be a fascist spy. Christian is not a man easily manipulated by spies and he and Max travel to Odessa to make the final arrangements to deliver arms to the Spanish Republic. They board a Russian ship with an illegal cargo of arms and run a fascist blockade in the Mediterranean on their way to Valencia. The Spanish Civil war is destined to be overcome by Hitler's will to dominate all of Europe.

This is a very good historical spy novel with a likeable and complex main character. There are many interesting historical insights presented in the plot I outlined above. Also, there are many exciting, action filled scenes as Max and Ferrar conduct their operations. Thirteen books in the genre by Furst are listed in the front of this good novel.

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