A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
One of those GREAT, sweeping spy epics. Furst stands right with le Carré (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), Littell (the Company), and Mailer (Harlot's Ghost) in his ability to capture the ambiguity, color, temperature and texture of prewar Europe as well as the people and claustrophobia of War.
I'm glad I decided to crack this spy nut. While there are segments here and there I didn't think were fantastic, on the whole, the entire novel was worth the time, effort, and credit. Spy fiction doesn't get much better than this. I read/listened to an earlier novel of his a few months ago (Mission to Paris) while traveling in E. Europe and almost ended my Furst journey before it began. I'm glad I went back to the beginning. Just based on this ONE novel, I'm about ready to commit to the next three or four Night Soldier novels.
Alan Furst's great historical espionage novel, Dark Star is a prewar epic of Europe's moral ambiguities and shifting loyalties. Told through the eyes of Pravda journalist and Luftmensch (and sometimes NKVD spy) André Szara, the story stretches from Paris to Berlin, Warsaw, and even down to Izmir. In this novel Furst examines ideas of trust and suspicion, love and hate, magnetism and repulsion.
It is a novel about the compromises good men make to survive, the power that a few evil men have over millions, and the sacrifices a few Luftmenschen make to save thousands. Ultimately, Dark Star is a story of the Russian and German nonaggression pact (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) at the beginning of WWII and how the Jewish members of Stalin's spy network were forced to make huge compromises to survive (most didn't survive) and how some were pushed into heroics because decency and the times demanded it.
The magic of this novel is that Furst is able to unweave the complicated nature of the prewar spy alliances and show all the different threads and colors and never lose the reader. His prose is amazing. His characters are nearly perfect. One of my favorite historical spy novels of all time.
A non-typical Furst novel, 'Dark Voyage' is primarily centered on a Dutch captain (DeHaan), his multicultural crew, and the merchant marine perils that faced sailors from the Mediterranean to the Baltic seas. Every book Furst writes appears to grow from the same thesis, but stretch into entirely new areas. This was a nice deviation from his normal East European or Parisian locals.
With every Furst novel, I become more and more amazed at the nuance of his novels. He seems content to write his novels in the periphery of history. His characters float past major events like mouches volantes through the dark vision of history. He wants to tell the story of minor characters, minor battles, minor countries that together all made a major difference in WWII.
When a new book in a series I read is about to come out, I frequently reread the last entry (or even the entire series) so that I will have all the events leading up to the new entry clear in my mind. I wasn't sure I wanted to reread "Pirate King," but since Garment of Shadows didn't appear on Audible the same day that it appeared on Amazon in hardback, I was feeling I might explode with anticipation. So I thought to myself, "Maybe Pirate King wasn't really as bad as I remember. I'll re-listen to it while I'm waiting for 'Garment.'" Well, Pirate King WAS as bad as I had remembered it. I listened for about an hour and then turned it off again. So I was a little worried. I mean, I never would have believed that Laurie R. King could have written anything as bad as PK. Did she have a stroke? Is she on some new and horrible cholesterol drug that has destroyed her mind?
I was worried.
Well, put your minds at rest. I still don't know what happened with Pirate King, but it was apparently just temporary. Garment of Shadows is back in the groove. The plot is good and there is plenty of mystery. Mary gets to exercise her considerable tenacity and ingenuity. There is plenty of Holmes. There are subsidiary characters in this book that we can actually like. Danger abounds.
One strange thing. In some of the Mary Russell books, we get sections written from Holmes's point of view. That is true in this book too. In previous books, Jenny Sterlin narrated both those parts of the book from Mary's POV and those from Holmes's POV. But in this book, they chose to get a second narrator to narrate those sections which are from Holmes's point of view. I've gotten used to Holmes's voice the way Jenny Sterlin does it, and the new narrator's voice for him is quite different, so it was sort of a shock. Even more strange is the fact that when the story is told from Mary's point of view, there is still dialog in which Holmes speaks, and this is still spoken by Sterlin. So we have two very different voices for Holmes in the same recording. I suspect many people are going to hate this. I didn't hate it, but I did think it was entirely unnecessary. We've gotten used to Sterlin's performance of Holmes's voice over many books. It wasn't broken. It didn't need to be fixed.
So finally: I recommend this book highly. Thanks Mrs. King. I loved your new book.