The Spies of Warsaw

spies of warsawIn Alan Furst’s deliciously atmospheric The Spies of Warsaw, Colonel Jean-François Mercier de Boutillon is working for the Warsaw branch of the French intelligence service. 1937 is a bad year for a lot of people in Eastern Europe, and many of them cross Mercier’s path: Russian émigrés, German informants, Polish Jews, Romanian fugitives. Mercier served in the first World War, and he has no desire ever to see another. Still, he knows, as his whole intelligence community knows, that Hitler’s regime is arming for war, and that only extremely sharp intelligence and swift action can avert it. There can be no mistakes. The fact that we, the readers, know that war could not be averted and came despite all these efforts doesn’t make any difference to the suspense of this wonderful spy novel. It only adds a melancholy tinge of foreshadowing to each operation.

Alan Furst’s novels are always meticulously researched, and The Spies of Warsaw is no exception. All his spy novels take place during or just before the second World War, which is a time I’m very familiar with, and I’ve never caught even one thing that seemed out of place or less than perfectly authentic. One thing I love about his books is that they push me beyond my “comfort zone” of Britain, France, and Germany. He writes about Hungary, Poland, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria — countries where the politics, the spycraft, and the outcome of the war are not so cut-and-dried. 

And they are exquisitely written. Furst loves to catch spies being human beings, and the rest of the human race being themselves. Meals are tender moments. Moonlight on snow is something to be savored. You can smell the smoke of the Gitanes in the cafés, hear the music playing in the nightclubs, taste the aromatic frites piled by the omelette aux fines herbes. Every detail is right, and then someone whispers a secret he shouldn’t know, and the whole intricate story begins again.

With one exception, these novels are stand-alones (The World at Night and Red Gold are linked together with the same main character), so you can pick up any one of them and instantly feel yourself transported to another place and time. These novels go above and beyond the espionage genre; they are literary, gorgeous, a true pleasure.

This entry was posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Spies of Warsaw

  1. litlove says:

    I’ve often wondered if these novels are any good and am delighted to know that they are. I’ll pick one up now, the next time they cross my path.

  2. sagustocox says:

    I’ve seen this book reviewed several times. I think it sounds fantastic.

  3. adevotedreader says:

    I’m glad to hear Furst’s novels are good as I’m fast running out of Le Carre. Like Litlove, I must pick one up.

  4. Jenny says:

    Litlove — I found Furst quite by accident and was overjoyed to find a (living!) spy novel writer who was this excellent. Let me know what you think!

    Sagustocox — it is fantastic, though I like The World At Night and Night Soldiers best of those I’ve read.

    Devotedreader — I know this is heresy, but I like Furst better than Le Carre. Try him and see what you think, yourself.

  5. Danielle says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Furst and after reading another ‘spy’ novel earlier in the year was looking for other authors worth reading. He came recommended and I have this one on my pile to read now, too! Glad to hear you liked it.

  6. Just been browsing this excellent site again – and here’s another book that I’ve ‘read’ by listening to the unabridged audio version on CDs while I’m driving from Birmingham (UK) to a tiny village on the South coast tovisit my 92 year-old mother for the weeknd. I get these audio books from my local library and I can never predict what I’ll find on the shelves.

    I don’t think I’d have even opened the paper version, with so many other books to choose from, but I’m really glad I did – I found it a fascinating story and I felt I’d learned a lot about behind-the-scenes of the lead-up to World War 2, and the characters were well drawn. Jean Francois sounded very sexy in the voice of the reader.

    I wonder how many other books reviewed here will be ones I’ve heard on CDs .

  7. Pingback: Spies who were out in the cold. « The Hieroglyphic Streets

Leave your comment here, and feel free to respond to others' comments. We enjoy a lively conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.