Thursday, July 31, 2008

Spies and a thriller

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
Alan Furst and I share an obsession with the Spanish Civil War. His last two books are set in the late ‘30’s, when the Spanish Republic was desperately hanging on in the fight against Franco and his Fascists, a fight the republicans eventually lost. But Furst’s books The Spies of Warsaw and The Foreign Correspondent are not about that war. In both of them the protagonists are resisting the Fascist threat that is menacing all of Europe, not just Spain. They are fighting the good fight, risking their lives trying to subvert the Nazis, which as we all know was a futile effort in the end. Nonetheless, they are heroic in the manner of true heroes. They are ordinary people putting their lives on the line to fight evil. Furst writes intelligent and compelling spy fiction. His characters are thoughtful and very human, with human failings. He mixes in just the right amount of romance, creating relationships that are believable but that don’t swamp the plot.
Alan Furst's website

City of Thieves by David Benioff
Kolya is the grandson of a Cossack who likes to quote passages from Russian literature and Lev is the son of a Jewish poet who was taken from his home by the secret police and never heard from again. They are an unlikely pair. They meet when they are arrested in wartime Leningrad, Kolya for desertion from the army and Lev for plundering. The NKVD colonel in charge who can order their execution, gives them a reprieve, offering to trade their lives for a dozen eggs, needed for his daughter’s wedding cake. This would seem to be a simple task, but for the fact that the city is under siege by the German army, and the inhabitants are starving and turning to cannibalism. As Kolya and Lev search the city and beyond for the eggs, they are affected by the horrors of war they witness and those they hear about. In spite of the cold and the hardships and the seeming impossibility of their task, Kolya never loses his optimism and his sense of humor. This is a book with a lot of heart. Benioff has created a memorable character in Kolya.
Interview with David Benioff

Christopher’s Ghosts by Charles McCarry
I picked up this book because it was described as a spy thriller. When I started reading it, it seemed to be something different, and at first I was disappointed at the lack of action. I almost abandoned it, but I’m glad I didn’t, because I was irresistibly drawn into the lives of the characters and the horror of their situation. In 1939 16-year-old Paul Christopher, son of a German mother and an American father, is living in Berlin with his parents. SS officer Stutzer, who has an obsession with Paul’s mother, harasses the boy and his girlfriend, harassment that ultimately ends in a sadistic act. The second part of the book is a traditional spy thriller, which has Christopher sneaking around East Berlin. I enjoyed this part, also, more so because he so carefully set up the situation and the relationships in the first part.

Reviewed by Suzanne

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