Author Alan Furst is a literary giant, a writer I admire enormously. His spy stories of wartime resistance evoke an insidious atmosphere of paranoid oppression, offset in near-equal measure by extreme human endeavour and endurance. Determination and despair permeate his pages in equal measure. His characters are flawed examples of humanity, compelled by circumstance into acts of valour at the risk of paying the ultimate price. He writes with pinpoint historical accuracy and breath-taking dramatic flair.
At least, he used to.
A Hero In France is almost none of the above. It crams in all the historical nitty-gritty you’d expect to find in a Furst novel, but it lacks his usual nails-down-chalkboard tension and grittily authentic atmosphere. Maybe it was written to satisfy contractual obligations, or perhaps he was just being pushed to a too-tight timetable? Either way, the result is an oddly flat and barely satisfying instalment in the ‘Night Soldiers’ series, one which struggles to stand comparison with the brilliant ‘Red Gold’ or ‘The Polish Officer’.
A Hero In France contains all the usual components of an excellent espionage adventure – an impromptu protagonist, sacrificial cell members being stalked by the gestapo, an honourable opponent who doggedly pursues his prey – but it feels lacklustre and uninspired. There are a couple of the usual Furst flourishes, including a visit to the bullet-pocked Brasserie Heininger in Paris, yet even these feel like box-ticking exercises rather than an author revelling in his creation.
Readers who are new to Alan Furst shouldn’t start here: go back to one of his earlier books instead. They’re all stand-alones and don’t need to be read in any particular order (despite the publisher weirdly branding them as a series. Even more weirdly, this book has been marketed under two titles and in some places is sold as ‘A Hero Of France’). Dedicated Furst fans may want to buy A Hero In/Of France to complete the series – but they may also want to put it on the shelf and leave it there to avoid disappointment…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
A Hero In France is available in hardback (immediately), paperback (eventually) and ebook (expensively)