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The Spies of Warsaw    by Alan Furst order for
Spies of Warsaw
by Alan Furst
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

The Spies of Warsaw is the tenth novel from the best-selling author of The Foreign Correspondent, a writer whom critics have hailed as the 'greatest living writer of espionage fiction.' Set in Poland and France on the eve of World War II in 1937 and 1938, the novel follows the harrowing adventures of the handsome and courageous Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier.

As the French military attaché in Warsaw, Mercier must make sense out of a complicated espionage environment in which dozens of spies from different countries share one tactical maxim: 'Know your enemies, know your friends, {and} avoid surprises at all costs.' As for himself, Mercier will find himself assigned to a death-defying mission with an important goal: find out as much as possible about Germany's probable plans for an invasion of France.

In parallel storylines - affecting Mercier's goals - a German industrialist who has been entrapped by a beautiful woman into selling secrets to the French runs afoul of Hitler's intelligence agents, and a Russian couple with a duplicitous past must find a way to escape from an increasingly dangerous Warsaw.

Meanwhile, a German intelligence officer approaches Mercier and attempts to recruit him as a spy against his own country. The stakes in the dangerous world of espionage are suddenly raised, and Mercier - if he is to succeed in his difficult goal - must tread very carefully on the tightrope of apparently conflicting allegiances.

In the end, Mercier - while never losing sight of the spy's tactical precept - will discover a shocking and ironic truth about his sacrificial commitment to his goal and his government's surprising reaction to his sacrifices.

Filled to overflowing with fascinating historical details, The Spies of Warsaw is a highly recommended, top-notch espionage thriller in which the standard ingredients - patriotism, danger, greed, murder, surprises, deception, and passion (between Mercier and a beautiful woman) - all serve to complicate Mercier's purpose-driven adventure.

2nd Review by J. A. Kaszuba Locke:

This is my first encounter with the works of Alan Furst, but the title, The Spies of Warsaw (the spies stationed in Warszawa embassies are from varied countries), whispered to my Polish heart. I understand why Furst has been referred to as 'the incomparable master of the historical spy novel.' His story took me down memory lane of a two-week visit to Polska, the homeland of my immigrant parents.

'In the dying light of an autumn day in 1937, a certain Herr Edvard Uhl, a secret agent, descended from a first-class railway carriage in the city of Warsaw. Above the city, the sky was at war; the last of the sun struck blood-red embers off massed black cloud, while clear horizon to the west was the color of blue ice.' Uhl carried a false-bottom satchel and headed for the Hotel Europejski to rendezvous with Countess Sczelenska (aka Hana Musser). The Reich is rearming and Herr Uhl is a senior engineer employed by Adler Ironworks in Germany, assigned to a tank design project.

Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier de Boutillon carries his well-scarred, six-foot height with ease. At times he walks with a stick, because of shrapnel in his knee. Decorated for heroism, Mercier is assigned to the French embassy in Warsaw in a three-year appointment. He meets with Herr Uhl, exchanging money for diagrams of a new tank turret. Mercier doesn't like what he's involved in, nor the German agent. His resignation has been sitting in his office desk drawer. His wife Annemarie died three years ago and his two daughters are grown. Mercier wouldn't mind retiring to the family estate in France. Returning to Breslau, Uhl suspects that he's being watched by the Gestapo.

Prior to a social event sponsored by the Renault Company, Mercier's partner had phoned that she was ill and arranged a substitute – Anna Szarbek, Parisian by birth, Polish by heritage and an arbitration lawyer with the League of Nations. 'When the League redrew the Silesian border in 1921, after the third uprising, tens of thousands of Poles and Germans were in a new country, and private citizens continued to submit claims to the League, seeking satisfaction they couldn't get from local courts ... War doesn't work, try the courts'. In a Polish home, the family would eat in the kitchen on the Poland side, and sleep in the bedroom on the German side of the property.

In Glogau 'a cold and wet front had arrived with the dawn and strands of white mist rose from the river'. In the center of the city is the station of the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence service of the SS headed by Sturmbannfuherr August Voss, known by his underlings as Frogface. Voss receives a report of suspicious behavior by a German citizen. With revenge in mind, Voss is out to hunt down a certain French attaché in Warsaw who interfered with an abduction and earned him a reprimand. At an evening event, Mercier is handed a note - a request for defection. 'The fire under the pot was being stoked, soon it would boil'

Alan Furst writes with lyrical flair and technical mastery, delivering an ending that will stun the reader. The last section of the book is appropriately entitled A Shadow of War (March 1938) - 'In Warsaw, one lately heard the expression 'przedwiosnie', an ancient term for this time of year, it meant 'prior to spring'. The streets were white with snow ... there was a certain gentle breeze in the air'. Alan Furst's work is translated into seventeen languages. Among his other credits are Night Soldiers; The Polish Officer; Red Gold; Dark Voyage, and The Foreign Correspondent.

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