A Resistance leader in Nazi-occupied France attempts to keep his lines of escape open in this lyrical spy novel.
This is Furst's (Midnight in Europe, 2014, etc.) 14th novel about espionage in World War II Europe, and his mastery of both the era and his craft is so complete that the book proceeds with a nonchalant ease. The anecdotal plot follows the Resistance leader Mathieu from early spring through late summer 1941, with a brief coda set in '44. It’s a significant period in the war: Britain is stepping up its bombing raids; routes of escape are narrowing; Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union is about to bring French Communists into the Resistance. Mathieu goes about the business of securing funds, managing message drops, hiding downed British and Polish pilots, and finding ways to smuggle them back to England so they can continue fighting. All of that is engrossing and told in Furst’s compressed poetic style. But the romantic heart of the book lies in the way it extols what, under the Occupation, remains of the sensual pleasures of life, the pleasures that are presented to us as the very opposite of what the Nazis stand for. For Mathieu, that’s the love affair he’s enjoying with a neighbor, the dog at his residential hotel who has adopted him, the occasional bit of meat or cheese he can get on the black market.
This daydream of life under the Occupation is something rare: a suspense novel that offers the pleasures of relaxation.