Cover Story: Espionage and Intrigue on the Eve of War

With the downfall of communism and the demise of the Cold War, most novelists of espionage thrillers lost their bread-and-butter bad guy: the operatives of that "Evil Empire", the Soviet Union, who plotted to undermine the Free World.

While communism was breaking apart, novelist Alan Furst, who grew up among the Jewish expatriates, refugees from Europe who populated New York City’s Upper West Side, found his inspiration in the past: in the intrigues on the Continent on the eve of the Second World War, when ordinary heroes are thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Furst, who has written a half-dozen of what he calls historical spy novels, has been popular in Great Britain since the publication of his first genre novel in 1983. He is only now being discovered by readers in this country who enjoy espionage.

His sixth novel, Kingdom of Shadows, was recently published in hardcover by Random House. His other volumes ­ Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, and Red Gold ­ are published in paperback from Trafalgar Square publishers. His publicists at Random House appear to be doing their jobs well: major articles about Mr. Furst have run recently in "New York" magazine, The New York Times, Book News, and the Denver Post, to name but a few.

Furst has been compared with Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, who wrote during the period he recreates, and with John le Carre, who has found inspiration in the machinations of a drug company to replace the plotting of communist spies. Yet the villains for Furst remain the Nazi SS and the Soviet secret police. And refreshingly so.

Reviewing Kingdom of Shadows in the New York Times, critic Janet Maslin wrote:
"Astonishingly, Alan Furst is not yet a household name. But perhaps the sixth of his supple, elegant European spy novels will do the trick, what with its beguiling sophistication, knowing political overview and utterly assured narrative tone".

Kirkus Reviews lavished this praise:
"The throes of masculine existential torment are an unquestionable specialty for Furst, whose World War II fiction combines so much broad historical erudition with such genuine humanity that they ought to be required reading".

"Furst", wrote journalist Charles Taylor, "would probably be considered our finest practicing historical novelist if he weren’t writing espionage novels. He’s as good a historian as a novelist can afford to be."

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