Alan Furst returned to the program after a long hiatus. The last time he was here he came out to the WYSO studios in Yellow Springs for an interview. That was back in the late 1990's. This time around we tracked him down at his hotel in Chicago. Furst was touring for the release of "Midnight in Europe." In this interview he discussed his writing process and what it is like to meet his fans. Here's my review which appeared in the Cox Ohio newspapers:
Are you the sort of reader who is on the lookout for books that are engaging, of consistently high quality, and reliably entertaining? I am, too. For fans of the espionage genre you won’t find many more engaging, consistent, or entertaining than those written by Alan Furst.
When it comes to writing historical spy novels Furst’s are impeccably first rate. He published his groundbreaking spy novel “Night Soldiers” in 1988, and he has been on quite the run ever since.
His latest is “Midnight in Europe.” These stories transpire between the years 1933 and 1944. This latest one unfolds during 1938. The title refers to the looming outbreak of World War II. The German military was then preparing to unleash a massive blitzkrieg upon Europe. The clock was quickly ticking down.
Furst’s protagonist is a lawyer named Cristian Ferrar. Ferrar is a Spanish emigre living in Paris. He works for an international law firm that has offices in New York City and Paris. Ferrar is also involved in the black market. He’s obtaining illicit arms shipments to send to Spain to aid the democratic government there. Students of modern history will recall that the Spanish government was then on the verge of being overthrown by General Franco’s fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War.
In reliable Furstian fashion we soon learn that Ferrar is quite the charming fellow: “his skin at the pale edge of dark, a gentle hawkish slope to the nose, and the deep green eyes common to the Catalan, with thick, black hair combed straight back from a high forehead and cut in the European style; noticeably long, and low on the neck. In June he’d turned forty … “
Ferrar’s partner in this arms smuggling is Max de Leon, a “consultant” for an organization, Oficina Tecnica, that is engaged in smuggling shipments into Spain. Ferrar and de Leon travel to Berlin to meet a Czech arms manufacturer. They are concealing a large sum of money to pay for this weaponry. Things soon go awry.
Later on the two of them head to Istanbul where they have cooked up a scheme to obtain a substantial amount of armaments. They hire Ukrainian gangsters to steal this material from a Soviet military warehouse located on the Black Sea.
A Mexican freighter is engaged to smuggle these arms across the Mediterranean and into Spain. Ferrar and de Leon are on board the freighter as it runs a dangerous gauntlet. There are spies everywhere.
To complicate matters Ferrar has also gotten himself involved in a love affair with a Spanish woman who might be a spy, too.
Of course, we know the history; those arms were being smuggled into Spain in vain-Franco’s forces were on the verge of winning. His allies in Germany and Italy were determined to thwart any attempts to resupply arms to Franco’s foes.
While de Leon is the more swashbuckling character of the two, Ferrar is the main guy in this book. He has various love interests, pending litigations and some extremely understanding bosses who mostly ignore his sideline occupation as an arms merchant. Furst has written another fast-paced thriller here. And in a world about ready to explode he manages somehow to come up with a rather sweet and satisfying conclusion.