After getting a much-needed haircut I’m sitting here in a super busy Starbucks, groggy and a tad sleep deprived. I’m desperately trying infuse myself with enough caffeine to write a blog post or two. It’s hard to feel productive on a cool, lazy fall morning like this. But hey, I gotta at least try? Maybe it’s fall mornings like this that lend themselves to writing about Alan Furst’s novel 2012 Mission to Paris. Brisk air and autumn colors feel appropriate for a light and entertaining spy novel set among the boulevards and night spots of Paris.
As one could guess from the title, Furst returns to his favorite city to tell the story of Austrian-born Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl. In 1938 as Europe prepares for war, Stahl has been loaned to the French division of Paramount Studies to star in its post-WWI film After the War. Far from living the pleasurable high life one would expect of a Hollywood actor temporarily residing in Paris, he’s instead aggressively courted by Nazi agents and their allies from the French political far right to support Berlin’s covert efforts to undermine France’s opposition to German militarism. Revolted by these overtures as well as Germany’s recent annexation of his native Austria, he offers his assistance to America’s nascent intelligence service. And like Furt’s other novels, there are side trips to other European countries, encounters with mysterious guest characters and a bit of romance here and there.
In my reviews of The Foreign Correspondent and Spies of the Balkans I pointed out that Fust’s novels share a number of common elements. After reading Mission to Paris it’s apparent there’s another common theme worth mentioning: the impromptu secret agent. Of the Furst novels I’ve read, his protagonists have been newspaper editors, cops, lawyers and with Mission to Paris, an actor. (The only one of Furst’s heroes who comes close to being a spy in the traditional sense would be Colonel Jean-François Mercier, the French miliary attaché in Spies of Warsaw.) While technically not spies, thanks to the courage of their convictions, as well as their language abilities and international connections they’re enlisted in the fight against Fascism.
If I can ever make a dent in my stack of library books, I wanna read more stuff by Alan Furst. As fall turns to winter, perhaps there’s no better time to immerse myself in the intrigues of pre-World War II Europe. Sounds good to me.