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.