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Alan Furst
Midnight in Europe
Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-400-06949-1
Publication Date: 06-03-2014
256 Pages; $27.00
Date Reviewed: 06-29-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014


Index:  General Fiction  Mystery

'Midnight in Europe,' the latest entry in Alan Furst's literary panopticon of Europe between World War One and World War Two, shows a writer who has so completely internalized our world as to make it his own &8212; and ours, once again, as we read.

Christi├ín Ferrar is a lawyer and a loner, a Spanish émigré working for an American law firm. It's 1938, and the Spanish Civil War has split the country between Franco's fascists and the remainders of the Republic. It's a losing battle and a little mirror of what is to come, but in the moments captured by this novel and the experience of reading, you'll find joy, heroism, tragedy, romance, all the riches of life played out miniature against an expansive, brooding background.

While the implications here are epic, the scope is intimate and immediate. Ferrar is drawn into smuggling arms for the Spanish Republic, to help them in a losing battle against the fascists. He has a quirky family to worry about and women to care about. He's smart, quiet and a great low-key center for the novel. Surrounding him are gangsters and spies, a memorable bunch. S. Kohl, the humble spy from Furst's other novels, returns, as does the Hungarian diplomat and spy, Count Janos Polanyi. New additions include Max de Lyon, an arms smuggler, Stavros, a Macedonian gangster and the Marquessa Maria Cristina. In swift, deft strokes, Furst brings them to vivid life in a manner that will ensure readers will want to see them again.

Furst has a particular way of writing so that he can manage the plot of three ordinary novels into one short novel and yet have a rich feel to the story. There are lots of exciting set pieces, but the story unfolds as a quiet pace. Furst understands how to create tension succinctly, in an understated, realistic manner. This goes as well for his romances, and the sense of humor that permeates the story. There's a very funny sub-plot involving an inheritance that is quite nicely resolved.

Furst's prose makes all this possible. As the plot is succinct, so are the sentences. He has a declaratory style that seems charmingly straightforward but in retrospect is rather poetic. His writing is easy to read, but never seems slick or weightlessly transparent. It exudes the classy feel of the best literature being written at the time it takes place.

As a piece unto itself, 'Midnight in Europe' is a perfect little novel about a very large world. Terror, love, betrayal and honor all present themselves in the course of everyday lives lived under deceptively stable circumstances. As readers, we know this world is about to change, radically, and mostly, not for the better. It's a feeling that stays with us, even after we close the book to find ourselves immersed in our own history.


 
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