Tag Archives: spy

A truly superior novel of espionage at the dawn of World War II

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.


Filed under Mysteries & Thrillers, Spy Stories

A worthy spy story that foretells more good reading to come

 A review of A Spy by Nature, by Charles Cumming

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

A Spy by Nature, Charles Cumming’s first novel, is the semi-autobiographical precursor several subsequent espionage stories that have caught the attention of reviewers and the reading public alike. The Trinity Six, the most recent, was a deft and ingenious reimagining of the familiar story of the five aristocratic Cambridge graduates whose greatest fame came when they defected to the Soviet Union after many years of undercover work in Britain.

In A Spy by Nature, Cumming tells a version of his own story as a recruit to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). His protagonist, Alec Milius, is a 24-year-old underperformer in London who devotes three months to testing and interviews preparatory to joining MI6, only to be rejected. The consolation prize is a job as a “support agent,” a species of contractor, who is placed in a British oil company with the assignment to infiltrate its American competitor and feed it disinformation.

As Alec’s story unfolds, he finds himself more and more deeply enmeshed in a web of distrust and betrayal that brings out the worst in him — and generates tragic consequences. Cumming’s portrayal of his alter ego is utterly convincing, and the story brings to light an increasingly important aspect of latter-day espionage in the post-Cold War Era: industrial espionage.

A Spy by Nature is an entirely worthy antecedent of Cumming’s later, more fully realized spy stories.


Filed under Mysteries & Thrillers, Spy Stories