Author of more than a dozen World War II-era spy novels, Alan Furst's latest book takes readers to the intense, fear-filled days of 1938, when the prospect of a new war threatens the peace of Europe.
In “Mission to Paris,” Furst's protagonist is Fredric Stahl, a Vienna-born American movie star who arrives in France to shoot a new picture and soon gets caught up in a web of political machinations. Though Stahl just wants to complete the film and go home, he is soon beset by French journalists, German spies and American diplomats who all want to use him to further their own agendas.
When Stahl is invited to attend a film festival in Berlin, his initial reaction is to decline. The last thing he wants is to have anything to do with Adolf Hitler's Germany. Soon, however, he realizes that the visit gives him a unique opportunity to help his nation and agrees to the Nazi request. German pressure doesn't end with one visit, however, and it isn't long before the Gestapo takes an unhealthy interest in him and the film he's working on.
All of the trademark Furst elements are here: the sullen protagonist, a bevy of tempting women, unscrupulous villains and a story that easily sucks in the reader. Like the great spy novels of John le Carré, Furst's novels are character-driven rather than plot-driven. This makes for a deep, thoughtful narrative as opposed to just pages and pages of action and explosions.
Stahl's inner conflict is the heart of this work as he works out if he should do what is expected of him or should he listen to his conscience. Should he stand up to the Nazi bullies trying to manipulate him, or should he return to America with his tail between his legs? Stahl isn't an action hero but a man simply trying to do the right thing in a world of vipers and assassins. All the while he's torn between two very different women — a wealthy French society girl and the German-emigre seamstress who works on his film.
Precisely because of the literary character of his works, Furst's novels are definitely not for everyone. At under 300 pages, “Mission to Paris” is a short book, and at times it does move slowly. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and there are ample thrills and narrow escapes to keep impatient readers involved. Still, this is a far cry from an action-packed Indiana Jones adventure.
Unfortunately, "Mission to Paris" does include occasional foul language some sexual scenes that a bit more explicit than they need to be.
While perhaps not Furst's best work (“The Polish Officer” still ranks at the top of the list), “Mission to Paris” brilliantly explores questions of conscience against the background of the looming Second World War.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the codeveloper of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org