A review of Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Alan Furst writes deeply engrossing novels of suspense about espionage in Europe in the years leading up to and during World War II. Mission to Paris, the latest of these books, is good enough to satisfy the most exacting fans of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. It’s difficult to accept the fact that Furst grew up on the Upper West Side of New York City and now lives nearby in Sag Harbor. He lived in Europe (Paris, actually) for only a limited period, seemingly far too short a time to explain the convincingly European sensibility about his work.
An Austrian-born Hollywood film star named Fredric Stahl is the protagonist of Mission to Paris. The title is ironic, as Stahl has come to Paris at the behest of Jack Warner to star on loan to Paramount Pictures in a war movie. As production on the film slowly commences, Stahl becomes increasingly attracted to the German emigre seamstress who creates the costumes for the movie, and soon finds himself starring in his own private love story. Meanwhile, the resolutely anti-Nazi Stahl finds himself targeted by Nazi operatives intent on enmeshing him in their propaganda machine. As the action unfolds, the two story lines intersect, endangering both Stahl and his lover.
When the story opens, it is late in 1938, with Europe on the brink of war. Chamberlain’s capitulation at Munich and the tragedy of Kristallnacht unfold in the background, occasional subjects of conversation and concern. Meanwhile, heated debate is underway in France about proposals from the Left to rearm the country in the face of inevitable German aggression, with sometimes violent opposition from the Right and the Nazi underground. Mission to Paris draws to a satisfying close shortly before Germany’s invasion of France in June 1939.
Mission to Paris is the twelfth of Furst’s “Night Soldiers” stories, which have appeared at an average of about one every two years since 1988. Far in the background of these novels is a lengthy cast of characters who may crop up from time to time in any given novel — occasionally with major roles, but usually more akin to spear carriers.
More power to Alan Furst! I can’t wait for the next book.