Has Alan Furst spoiled me for Alan Furst? He remains one of my favorite authors of historical espionage. I pre-buy every new volume, although his last book, “Mission to Paris,” about a Hollywood actor spying in Europe was the least satisfying. In “Midnight in Europe,” the research is impeccable. The prose pristine. The psychological insight astute. The women characters intrigue; the protagonist wise and complicated.
Again we have a chapter from the WWII playbook, a slice that evokes the whole: a sophisticated Spanish-born lawyer living in Paris moonlights in the arms trade in service of the Spanish Republic in 1938. While we know that Franco’s fascists won this battle, and that the Nazi’s will rise even further in the coming years, Furst builds suspense in the way that small acts of courage build to impact large strategic movements — or fall by the wayside in futility.
Still, the romantic underpinnings of this particular volume — between the lawyer and a mysterious Marquesa, and a Manhattan library worker — seems particularly forced, as if even Furst had tired of creating these couplings. And that could be because I know Furst too well, and found this book a less compelling read than “The Polish Officer,” “Red Gold,” or “Night Soldiers.” Maybe I am ready for Furst to reach back to his Eric Ambler roots and go darker, quirkier, even as his elegant novels gain wider recognition within the literary mainstream.