Let’s face it, Europe in 1938 was no picnic. With totalitarian regimes ascendant in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union it must have looked like democracy or anything even close to it was about done for. After annexing Austria, Hitler’s Germany looked to be on the march, with Czechoslovakia and Poland as its next victims. With generous support from Italy and Germany, the Fascist dream of a Spanish dictatorship with each passing day was becoming more and more a reality. On the far side of Europe, deadly purges, famines and mass incarcerations ravaged Stalin’s USSR. For close to 10 years a world-wide economic depression haunted the land. Confronted with this grim landscape, by 1938 I’m sure many Europeans feared another horrible war was about to be unleashed on the Continent. Perhaps it was only a matter of time.
This is the setting for Alan Furst’s novel Midnight in Europe. Published in June of this year, it follows the adventures of Cristián Ferrar, a Paris-based Catalan lawyer turned international arms smuggler. Pressed into service by Spain’s left-leaning Republican government, he and his shadowy associates crisscross Europe in search of munitions to resupply the Republic’s dwindling armory. Caught up in this clandestine web of international intrigue is a blackmailed industrialist, a Macedonian thug, a Jewish arms merchant and a cut-throat team of Russian gangsters. And just to make things even more interesting there’s a beautiful and beguiling Marquesa.
Even though Furst is a prolific writer, this is the first novel of his I’ve read. And it wont be the last because I enjoyed the heck out of it. (I have no idea where to begin, but Dark Voyage, The Spies of Warsaw and Spies of the Balkans all look particularly promising.) It’s one of those light and fast-paced novels that still manages to hold ones interest. Even though there might not be a lot of depth to the characters, they’re nevertheless still interesting. There’s no shortage of exotic locales either. From the battlefields of Spain to the nightspots of Paris to the taverns of the old Free City of Danzig, Furst uses the breadth of pre-war Continental Europe to tell his tale. In short, the perfect sweeping and entertaining novel for my Pan-European Lives series.