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17 November 2015

Alan Furst: Mission to Paris

Fascinating and imaginative pre-WWII espionage thriller
In late 1938 France is worried about the Nazis and Chamberlain's infamous Munich deal with Hitler is about to happen. Paris is a hotbed of Nazi intrigue as the Germans try to soften up the country to destabilise the government and slow the building of the Maginot Line.

It is around this background that Alan Furst sets this fascinating and imaginative espionage thriller where Hollywood star Fredric Stahl  is sent by studio boss Jack Warner to make a film in Paris about soldiers from 3 countries at the end of WWI. Stahl was born in Austria but left for Hollywood several years ago and has little interest in going back to his country of birth which has recently been annexed by Germany.

Without his knowledge, Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry has plans to use Stahl for propaganda and invites him to Berlin to judge a festival of mountain based propaganda films. Stahl is reluctant to go but is put under pressure by the Germans, especially with threats to Stahl's parents who still live in Austria. After an almost clandestine meeting with a senior US Embassy official, he is persuaded not only to go to Berlin but also to meet with Olga Orlova. a Russian émigré living in Berlin who is working for the Americans.

The descriptions of Paris at that time, especially the people that he meets and works with are interestingly authentic. The descriptions of Berlin and the people he meets are chilling. He arrives on the night of November 9, 1938 "Kristallnacht" which heralded the start of the German offensive against the Jews, with 30,000 German Jewish men being arrested and sent to concentration camps and Jewish property and businesses smashed across the city.

Initially, Stahl is an innocent bystander but gradually gets drawn into the conflict as the Germans turn up the heat and he becomes emotionally involved in what is happening to Germany. Furst creates Stahl as an ordinary but caring person, who is thrown into something that is well out of his depth but who finds the ability to protect himself while protecting others.

This is an excellent and imaginative WWII espionage thriller that kept me absorbed. I will certainly look out for other books in this series.

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