Random House/Penguin, $27.00, 251 pages, ISBN 978-1-4000-6949-1
If you’re a fan of noir fiction, tales of WWII exploits or spy thrillers, you’ll love this week’s MBR . . . an espionage novel set in Paris in 1938, on the eve of World War II, just as the Spanish Civil War is coming to an end.
Generalissimo Franco’s Nationalist forces, together with their Nazi allies in the north of Spain, are poised to deliver the finishing blow to the beleaguered Republican armies in the south, and establish a fascist dictatorship. The rag-tag Republican army is communist, made up of intellectuals and idealists who lack adequate training, weapons or supplies of medicine, food and ammunition. Their only hope of survival in the coming battle is to procure some heavier weapons: artillery pieces, and the ammunition to use with them.
Midnight in Europe, by Alan Furst is an atmospheric tale of an ordinary man being pushed into an extraordinary situation. His name is Cristian Ferrar, a respected Spanish lawyer, living in Paris and working for a top echelon international law firm. He’s approached by a man from the Republic of Spain’s embassy and asked to help a clandestine agency of that government, (The legitimate, elected, communist, government of Spain. Franco was a rebel, trying to overthrow it.) who is trying to supply weapons to the Republican army. He agrees, soon finding his life in danger, traveling across Europe. deep into the eastern bloc in an attempt to get a trainload of twenty millimeter canons aboard a ship and back to Spain, aided only by thugs and aristocrats, arms dealers, spies and idealists. From Paris to Istanbul, New York to Poland, chased by the Gestapo and shady women, the young lawyer pursues his mission in a deadly race against time, as the nationalist armies are massing for their final push. The novel is intense, chock-full of historical details and authentic scenarios, and a don’t miss-must read for any student of World War II.