2014 might be remembered for many things, but when it comes to my reading life I’ll probably remember it as the year I discovered Alan Furst. It all started one day at the public library when I found a copy of his recently published novel Midnight in Europe. After that I quickly developed a minor obsession with Furst’s fiction, devouring six of his earlier novels in fairly rapid succession. All this by a guy who has traditionally seen himself as reader of mostly nonfiction, let alone a fan of “series” novels.
But the more I think about it, maybe that’s why I like Furst’s Night Soldiers novels so much. Set in Continental Europe during the years leading up to, or just after the outbreak of World War II, they appeal not only to my love of 20th century history (especially the interwar period) but also my fascination with Eastern and Central Europe. The novels are sophisticated while at the same time not dense with overly elaborate and confusing plots. There’s also number of memorable crossover characters who drop in throughout the series, just to make things a bit more entertaining. Lastly, how could I not enjoy Furst’s Night Soldiers novels when all of them revolve around a noble, intelligent, brave (yet never foolhardy) man around my same age?
Kingdom of Shadows is the seventh of Furst’s novels I’ve read this year. Published in 2000, it tells the story of Nicholas Morath, a Hungarian advertising executive who finds himself pressed into the spy business by his wealthy and mysterious uncle Count Janos Polanyi (my favorite of Furst’s supporting crossover characters). His uncle’s errands send the 40-something Nicholas across Europe, where he engages in one secret mission after another. When not serving as a secret courier or amateur black ops specialist, like many of Furst’s heroes Nicholas enjoys living the high life in Paris. And just like Furst’s other heroes, Nicholas has a pleasurable but not irresponsible love life.
Will my obsession with the novels of Alan Furst continue in 2015? Right now my guess would be yes, it will. During my library visits I’ve frequently seen Dark Voyage and The World at Night available on the shelf and both novels have intrigued me. I’m also intrigued to read some of the authors that Furst has credited as his inspiration. I’ve read several online articles about Furst and in them he’s mentioned writers Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Joseph Roth and Arthur Koestler as important influences on his work. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see some of their novels also featured on this blog in the coming year.