11 July 2007

The Foreign Correspondent

Alan Furst is a favorite writer of mine; for what he does, he can do no wrong. And what he does is write espionage thrillers that take place in Europe on the cusp of World War 2. These stories have heroes who typically never planned to have anything to do with politics, who would have been happy to sit out the war in Tahiti (ideally with a warm blonde), but whom circumstances have forced into engagement against the forces of fascism.

Basically, they're ordinary people who get mixed up with spies, and end up becoming spies themselves, or helping spies, which amounts to the same thing.

The great thing about these heroes is they seem ordinary and peaceful enough that you can really imagine yourself in their shoes; when the daring missions ensue, you've identified with them so much that you can convincingly flatter yourself you'd have done the same.

Furst writes simply and well, and while you could complain that his several novels tell essentially the same story again and again, that's hardly surprising. This is popular fiction at its best, but it remains popular fiction.

This latest novel centers on an Italian Reuters correspondent living in Paris just before Mussolini and Hitler cement their alliance. He works for an emigre newspaper, writing anonymous articles against Mussolini's government, but his relatively placid existence is disturbed when the Italian fascist secret service sets out to terrorize everyone involved with the newspaper.

A great read for the train or when you just feel like an escape.

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