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Alan Furst's writing reminds me of a swim in perfect water on a perfect day, fluid and exquisite. One wants the feeling to go on forever, the book to never end. Such is it with this historical spy novel. From September 1938 to January 1939, the reader vividly lives through Paris's last stormy breaths of freedom before Germany's attack in 1940. Our unlikely hero is Frederick Stahl, 40, a handsome American movie star, not an action figure but everyone's favorite silver screen doctor or uncle or romantic leading man. Warner Bros. loans Stahl out to make a picture in Paris. He likes Paris, and he likes keeping Jack Warner happy. But there's a little known fact in his past that the Nazis can make much of-born in Vienna, Stahl worked as a gopher for the Austrian legation in Barcelona at the end of WWI, and Austria had been an ally of Germany. So when officials in Germany's political warfare department discover Stahl will be in their sphere of influence, they alert their Paris section to put him on "the list" to be used. From movie studios to embassies, from parties with the untouchably wealthy to a sexy love affair with a sophisticated emigre living in a tenement, Stahl finds himself caught between those who believe France must rearm to fight Germany, and those who are desperate for a negotiated peace. When Stahl refuses to support "peace," the Nazi threats begin. To retaliate, he becomes a secret U.S. courier, bravely carrying hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs into Germany and Morocco to exchange for intelligence about the Nazis. Reading Furst is the next best thing to having been in Berlin: "Uniforms everywhere.... This country was already at war, though enemy forces had yet to appear, and Stahl could sense an almost palpable violence that hung above the city like a mist." Like Graham Greene, Furst creates believable characters caught up, with varying degrees of willingness, in the parade of political life. And because they care, the reader does, too. And like Lee Child, Furst captures personality with insightful brush strokes: Stahl's father had "a face like an angry prune." Long on an ability to translate good research into great reading, Furst has only two downsides: although threats escalate, little comes of them, and when Stahl takes risks, they tend to deflate. For example, Stahl insists he's honor-bound to pursue the Nazis who've stolen the film crew's cameras, but he ends up waiting in a rowboat with a gun while others do the dangerous work offstage. And when the woman he loves is held in Budapest for interrogation, Stahl's solution is to use his box-office status to get her a visa at the U.S. embassy, then phones the William Morris Agency in hopes his agent can come up with an exit strategy. Still, my complaints are minor compared to the breadth and realized ambition of this seductive novel. Furst is one of the finest spy novelists working today, and, from boudoir to the beach, Mission to Paris is perfect summer reading. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* Through his dozen historical-espionage novels, most set just prior to or during WWII, Furst has taken us across Europe, but he is most at home in Paris, which is why legions of his fans, upon seeing the title of his latest book, will immediately feel their pulses quicken. It only gets better. Recalling The World at Night (1996), which starred Parisian filmmaker Jean Casson dodging Nazis in 1940, this equally entrancing tale returns to the world of moviemaking, this time in 1938. Hollywood movie star Fredric Stahl, on loan from Warner Brothers to appear in a French production, arrives in Paris just as Neville Chamberlain is negotiating peace in our time. A Slovenian who was raised in Vienna, Stahl is quickly contacted by old friends, now all Nazi supporters, who see him as a valuable asset in their political warfare against the French. But Stahl has other ideas and, like so many casual hedonists in Furst's books, finds himself drawn into the prewar cloak-and-dagger world but not on the side of his former friends. There is romance, too, of course, but, as always, it carries that familiar carpe diem double edge, as lovers' attention jumps from one another to an unexpected knock on a hotel door. Furst has been doing this and doing it superbly for a long time now, and fans will note sly nods not only to The World at Night (Casson makes a kind of cameo) but also to Kingdom of Shadows (2001) and The Foreign Correspondent (2006). Is Furst repeating himself? Not really, but who would care, even if he was? Rather, he is revisiting a familiar moment in time but viewing it from a slightly different angle, through the eyes of other sets of characters. Thank heavens for that. It looks like we'll always have Furst's Paris. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Long ago Furst made the jump from genre favorite to mainstream bestsellerdom; returning to his signature setting, Paris, he only stands to climb higher.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Fredric Stahl, a successful Hollywood actor with a Viennese bloodline, returns to Paris to make a movie for a big studio. The German Reich's publicity machine works to steer him into the anti-war French camp, and he hobnobs with champagne magnates and German elites to enjoy the high life of 1938 Paris. Like every Furst hero, though, Fredric has a conscience, so he begins his own anti-Hitler campaign in the quiet ways familiar to Furst's legions of fans. VERDICT Between them, Fredric and Paris make this a book no reader will put down until the final page. Furst evokes the city and the prewar anxiety with exquisite tension that is only a bit relieved by Fredric's encounters with several women, each a vivid and attractive character. Critics compare Furst to Graham Greene and John le Carre, but the time has come for this much-published author (this is his ninth World War II novel after Spies of the Balkans) to occupy his own pinnacle as a master of historical espionage. [See Prepub Alert, 12/12/11.]-Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.