Bulgaria, 1934. The local fascists have just murdered the brother of Khristo Stoianev. Now Khristo is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, for special service in the Spanish civil war.
©1988 Alan Furst; (P)2002 Recorded Books
"Furst shows a remarkable talent in his fifth novel, integrating details about the cultures of Spain, France and Eastern Europe with a fascinating story." (Publishers Weekly)
"Night Soldiers has everything the best thrillers offer, excitement, intrigue, romance, plus grown-up writing, characters that matter, and a crisp, carefully researched portrait of the period in which our own postwar world was shaped." (USA Today)
"Intelligent, ambitious, absorbing....The history is deftly incorporated; the viewpoint civilized; the characters and the settings picturesque; the adventures exciting; the writing pungent." (The New York Times)
This story of a Bulgarian spy seems remarkably authentic, portraying what feels like the real life of a man who served the Soviets before and during WWII. The most interesting portion takes place in Civil War-era Spain, and one learns a few tricks of the trade, such as how to find out the password to get thru a roadblock into a town (set up your own fake roadblock and wait till someone tells it to you) and what to do if you discover a beacon for incoming aircraft (don't extinguish it -- move it to where the incoming aircraft will be easy to shoot down). For those who enjoy grim spy realism that in some ways even surpasses Le Carre, this is worth a listen. If you want James Bond, skip this one.
Alan Furst creates such a sense of time and place with this novel of a world that has gone mad. The feel of civilization unraveling is quite unnerving, and as always George Guidall ( you either love the guy or hate him..) narrates with what I'd call a determined flair.
I enjoyed this as much as his other Novel, Dark Star, which is set in a similar time and place. The two Stories share the connection of the start of the Soviet Revolution, and although I did not live it- it feels very realistic.
One note: there is much death and violence- after all it is set right before and during World War 2. So, not exactly the "feel good" book of the month- My wife hated it- I loved it!
I've now read most of this series and I have to say this was without a doubt my favorite. Although it was lengthy, I didn't want it to end. Loved the history and the characters. I find myself pulling for Kristo and his BF comrades. I've listened to literally hundreds of audible books and this is the first time I've ever rated or reviewed. Thats how strongly I feel about this great piece of espionage literature. But, my main reason for submitting this is to heap praise--that's right - heap, on George Guidall. He's without a doubt the best narrator, especially for these works. Even his women characters sound believable, something I thought impossible. Amazing. His mastery of the various languages and dialects he employs is spot on and I've heard many others who could not pull this off. He and Patrick Tull are the best narrators. IMHO.
pros and cons
This is an outstanding book read by an outstanding reader. Alan Furst is almost certainly the best espionage fiction writer in the post-cold war era. Though his closest comparison would be the John le Carre of the 1970s, don't look for tightly knit, organized plots. Furst writes episodically. But also beautifully.
Night Soldiers seems to be well written in the style of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. The problem is that there are all of these disjointed vignettes and storylines that never seem to be fully connected and that never quite lead to the exciting page-turner it was seemingly building toward. The author repeatedly uses a technique where the outcome of a scene is left off and a later incident subtly reveals it. This gets old after it happens for the tenth time. I know this is an effective literary device if used appropriately, but it is WAY overdone.
I have listened to scores of good Audible books, but I cannot recommend this one.
The book is similar to an epic, whereas the main character travels al over the world. From Bulgaria, to Russia, to Spain, to France, to Switzerland, to Czechoslovakia, and so on. It gives an idea of life before and during WWII.
The book has tons of unneeded character development. For example it takes a half hour or so to develop three characters, giving historical background and logging years of conversations in the village bar, to have then both arrested and hanged in the very next paragraph, all to no avail. Also, there are so many characters with similar Eastern European names, it was very difficult to keep them all straight.
In the end, I'm glad I read the book, but this won't be one that I'll remember for very long.
Definitely his best book, Polish Officer comes in second. A spy novel is supposed to be complicated, some of the other reviewers should be reading Dan Brown rather than Alan Furst.
This is a very good listen as it provides a good insight into the inner workings of the operation of the Russian state security agency (NKVD) and intriguingly describes events of the the prewar and wartime Europe through the eyes of Soviet, British and American spies. The book does have several inaccuracies. One small example is the author's reference to the NKVD personnel driving Pobeda (or Victory) cars in prewar Moscow. That is not possible as the car was first built in 1946 in honor of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. I like Russian and WWII history and pay attention to details. Because of some of these inaccuracies I rated the book only 4 stars.
I downloaded this book as a fan of historical fiction, mysteries, as well as military history. Based on the synopsis of the book and other audible readers' reviews, this book should have fed each of my vices.
What I received was a painfully slow story full of under-developed characters and mind numbing, meaningless descriptions. I did, however, find a wonderful use for Night Soldiers; a sleep aid.
I love spy novels and this is one first-rate. Detailed trade craft, fascinating economically-developed characters, suspense, intrigue, courage, the works. I couldn't stop listening. George Guidall's reading is perfect: unhurried, slightly understated, and with distinctive voices for the different characters. As a benchmark to see if your taste lines up with mine, I love John Le Carre (especially early John Le Carre) and have no time whatsoever for the likes of Henning Mankell.
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