Monday, February 22, 2016

Review of Dark Star by Alan Furst (Phoenix, 1991)

A Polish Jew bought up in early twentieth century Russia, Pravda foreign correspondent André Szara is a born survivor.  But as Stalin conducts his purges and Europe teeters on the edge of war, staying alive requires both wits and luck.  As the Czech’s try to hold back Germany’s demands Szara is drawn into the clutches of the NKVD and a deadly rivalry between factions.  Set up as the deputy director of spy rings in Paris and Berlin, Szara criss-crosses Europe using his role as a journalist as cover.  But what he and his agents discover is as dangerous as the agency running them.  Szara thus resorts to a tricky game of piggy-in-the-middle, playing the various foes against each other while trying to find a way out of their various predicaments.  And in the meantime, Europe becomes ever more dangerous for Jews and edges towards war. 

Dark Star is the second book in Alan Furst’s Night Soldier’s series set in 1930s and 40s Europe.  Like the first in the series, the tale is an epic adventure traversing several countries including Belgium, Germany, Czechoslovakia, France, Poland and Russia, tracking the fortunes of André Szara, a foreign correspondent for Pravda and reluctant Russian spymaster, over a four year period.  Like the geography and time frame, the scope of the story is similarly expansive revolving around a conspiracy within the NKVD related to Stalin and his purges and German/Soviet relations pre-war.  Szara unwittingly stumbles into the middle of a secretive and deadly game of cat-and-mouse and is thrust into its centre.  Despite its expansiveness, Furst keeps a tight grip on the storytelling setting out a complex and layered plot in 400 pages.  It’s a remarkable feat given the richness in the descriptions of people, politics, situations and places and the well-developed characterisation.  Szara, in particular, and his various interactions and reflexive thoughts is nicely penned.  The plot does become a little convoluted and seemingly fanciful at times – Szara is certainly blessed with a lot of luck – but it is also compelling and very well contextualised with respect to the events and manoeuvring of the time.  The result is a gripping tale of espionage and a man living on the edge.

1 comment:

Jose Ignacio said...

I'm reading The Foreign Correspondent thanks to your suggestion, Rob. I've only read a few pages so far, so a bit early to say something, but I hope I'll enjoy it.