World of shadows

Alan Furst is one of my very favourite spy story writers. Not only does he write excellent well-constructed stories with believable characters, the background history is reconstructed minutely, and the location of his novels comes vibrantly to life.

As far as I know all his tales are set in 1930s/40s continental Europe, principally in Central Europe and France. The world at night is the first in a short sequence following the life of Jean Casson, a film producer based in Paris. Casson lives a pleasant enough life, divorced he has a string of love affairs, although the love of his life, the actress Citrine, evades him. Into this pleasant bourgeois existence comes the Second World War. Casson spends a brief time with the French army, and then returns to a Paris, which is in many ways changed, and yet still manages to remain recognisably itself. Life however is to become increasingly complicated for Casson when he is pulled into the world of espionage; and finally realises that at some point he must choose where his loyalties lie.

Furst's writing has often been compared to watching a film noir, and I think that's a great comparison. His world is one of shadows, of light flickering in the darkness. His characters are often complex. These are great reads, exciting storylines that propel the reader forward at a great pace. They also provide a wonderful insight into the complex history of Europe as it slides into war, and comes out the other side. But most of all he has a great sense of place.

France is described lovingly, but not sentimentally. Reading The world at night, I yearned for France: for the sunlight around the Ile de la Cite, for the bright light of Provence, and the smells of the street markets. Great compulsive reading in the class of an Ambler or a Simenon, if you haven't discovered Alan Furst yet you're in for a treat.


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