I’ve heard good things about Alan Furst’s spy novels. They’re set almost exclusively in the pre-WWII “rise of fascism” era or during WWII itself and contain immersive detail about the events, politics, and general life of the time period. I like spy novels. I like WWII history. From the sounds of things, it should be just the type of thing to float my boat. Or trip my trigger. Or tickle my pickle. Take your pick. So when I selected The Foreign Correspondent (Furst’s 2006 entry in his Night Soliders series, now 11 books strong) as one of my audio book reads for my trip down to
last month, I expected to be treated
to a riveting tale of WWII espionage, intrigue, and danger. Orlando
But I wasn’t.
Oh, there was espionage, intrigue, and danger—just not enough of it to make the tale riveting. Actually, it was kind of boring. The historical aspect was well done and quite interesting, but the plot moved sluggishly, and I kept waiting for a rise in action that never came. Guess it was a good thing I wasn’t holding my breath. Let me tell you a little bit about the plot so you can see what I mean.
The protagonist is one Carlo Weisz, a foreign correspondent for the Reuters news agency during the Spring of 1939. He’s also an Italian émigré living in Paris, one of the many artists, professors, and intellectuals that were forced to flee
Mussolini and his blackshirts took power.
He and his émigré friends operate one of the many émigré newspapers in Italy Paris, writing propaganda against the Fascisti regime and covertly distributing it back within . When the editor of the magazine is killed by
the Italian secret police, Carlo agrees to take on the editorial duties. In the meantime, he makes several trips to
reporting assignments around the region for Reuters—hot button locales like Italy Spain, Prague,
itself. War is looming, the Germans and
the Italians have allied themselves in war, and the only question is which
spark is going to set off the European powder keg—stuff that makes for entertaining
newsprint if nothing else. Germany
The whole time I kept expecting the slowly mounting tension to explode, to finally get to the
of the novel
where the shit hits the fan, everyone’s running for their lives, and feats of
derring-do save the day. Well, maybe not
derring-do. This ain’t a James Bond
flick. But something, y’know? In the end Carlo goes to high point for a
while, has a few tense moments when he believes he’s being followed by the
secret police (but isn’t), and then hitches a ride home with some Swedes. When he gets to Italy his lady love is waiting for him, and
it’s happily ever after—except for that whole impending war thing. Paris
That was my problem with the book overall. Nothing really happens. Oh, there’s enough subtle intrigue and foreboding to give an old lady a heart attack, but nothing ever comes of it. It’s just… kind of boring. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Spycraft isn’t all excitement and shootouts and naked chicks. Real spycraft is long periods of tedious boredom punctuated by heart-racing fear. Given his attention to historical detail, I guess it’s not surprising that Furst’s novel was more realistic than most—even if it made for a less entertaining book. And really, how much derring-do can you expect from a journalist whose idea of “fighting back” against fascist oppression is writing some whiny articles?
What The Foreign Correspondent lacks in excitement, though, it makes up for with nearly everything else. The novel is amazingly-well researched. Furst crafts realistic (if somewhat boring) characters and an immersive historical setting using style and language that are measured, understated, and elegant. I could almost imagine I was back in
with Carlo and the
rest of the gang. It was a lot like
being thrown into the DeLorean and burning rubber back in time to punch
Mussolini in the face. Or write nasty
articles about him. Same thing. Paris
The Foreign Correspondent wasn’t the most exciting book I’ve ever read, but it had enough of a silver lining to make me glad that I read it nonetheless. That’s why I give it three stars.