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THE SPIES OF WARSAW
by Alan Furst
Random House, June 2008
288 pages
$25.00
ISBN: 1400066026


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the days leading up to World War II, Warsaw has become a hotbed of spy activity. Every embassy gathering presents the opportunity to gather more intelligence. Into this scene comes the new French military attachť, Jean-Francois Mercier, a former soldier from an aristocratic French family, who is more comfortable on the battlefield than meeting in smoky cafes with German agents.

Mercier is at the center of this tale of espionage, with no less than twenty other spies of all nationalities populating author Alan Furstís new novel, THE SPIES OF WARSAW. Complicating Mercierís life in his new role as spy is a love interest with a League of Nations lawyer, a Parisian of Polish heritage, who is also in another relationship. Mercier has got his hands full learning the business of spycraft after years as a soldier, but Jean-Francois cannot get Anna off his mind. Yet love is a treacherous business in such a milieu, and one can never be sure who is trustworthy or honest in 1937 Warsaw.

Adding to the inherent danger of spy work are the political machinations behind the scenes, and this is where the story gets really interesting. While it is clear that, for both Germany and France, the stakes in 1937 Warsaw are very high, the political leadership in those respective countries each has its own agenda, despite what might be revealed through the intelligence gathered. This is also where the parallels to contemporary politics seem most salient.

While readers may be apprehensive that the sheer number of characters and spies might overwhelm the storytelling aspect of this thriller, the story is surprisingly easy to follow. Alan Furst introduces the characters at a pace that makes following the plotís progression simple. Focusing largely on the actions in Warsaw through the eyes of one central character - Mercier -enables the rest of characters and their accompanying activities to proceed without a hitch.

If there is anything to complain about in THE SPIES OF WARSAW, it may be the ending. At first the sheer shift in action to Paris might strike readers as a letdown. After a dangerous espionage mission, Mercier is recalled to headquarters, and the book ends fairly abruptly after that. However, after having some time to consider this ending, a reader may find that this is just the point that Furst is trying to make. The world of war and espionage are determined by political decisions, not always necessarily whatís in the best interest of the country. And that may be the most interesting point of the novel after all.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, May 2008

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