Dark Star


Alan Furst


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

August 30, 2004

This is a book about spies in Europe just before (and after) the outbreak of World War 2. It does a terrific job when it describes the fear and uncertainty of being a spy. Betrayal is every where, no one can be trusted. Our hero is Szara, a newspaper journalist. He is reknown for his stories in Pravda - and someone decides this would be the perfect cover for a spy - he can move around Europe with arousing suspicion. How can Szara say no?

There isn't a clear goal to this story, other than survival. This is a thriller where our hero has a well defined objective, such as stealing a secret. Instead, through Szara's eyes, we get an atmospheric view of Europe before World War 2. Szara has glimpses of plots that are afoot, but only later (at the end of the novel), when he reflects upon all that he has seen, and all that happened does he realize what his spying was actually about. It was nice of Furst to include that section at the end.

Szara finds himself in Poland when the Germans launch their attack in 1939. The Wehrmacht is unbeatable, and the Polish officer that is escorting Szara knows it. The Polish forces fall. Szara is afraid that his Russian spy masters have decided to kill him, and so in the chaos of war torn Poland he decides to make a break. This is a fine section of the book, especially the panic when his escape goes awry and he finds himself in Germany, with the Gestapo everywhere. I also liked earlier scene of the futile trip to Portugal, where he hopes a lover will join him in flight - Furst conveys well the hope then disappointment that Szara feels. Also, the Crystal Night scene is good.

There is a lot of good writing in here, but I only awarded it 3 stars because some times it seems that the story dragged. I guess there is boredom as well as terror in the spy business. The book is 400 pages long (in hardcover edition), but seemed longer. I guess it is an up and down book. I may read more of Furst, some of his other books have rated highly, I think he won an Edgar Award.