Back to WWII again, with another reluctant civilian pressed into service against the Nazis—but the tale is far from old hat.
Will we ever stop referring to Furst’s fiction (Blood of Victory, 2002, etc.) as being influenced by classic films, and by the work of Greene and le Carré, and start calling other things Furstian? If his latest is any indication, that time won’t be far off. It’s WWII again, but instead of, say, a smoky Paris café, things start off in the sun-blasted souks of Tangier, circa 1941. E.M. DeHaan is the captain of the Dutch freighter the Noordendam, and he’s been approached by his superiors to help the Allies in this little world war that’s been sending plenty of his fellow ship captains to the bottom of the ocean. With absolutely no military experience or knowledge of espionage, DeHaan is asked to repaint his ship like a neutral Spanish vessel in order to ferry a contingent of British commandos over to attack an outpost of Nazis in Vichy French-held Tunisia. After the Noordendam proves successful in that operation, it’s sent off to bring a load of munitions to the beleaguered Allied forces barely holding on after the surprise German paratrooper assault on Crete. Each mission is a nail-biting affair as Nazi submarines roam the seas, not to mention the two suspicious characters DeHaan had to add to his already motley and polyethnic crew: a bloodless spy with the diffident air of an accountant, and a darkly beautiful Russian journalist. Furst succeeds not just because of his artfully constructed prose, but because he’s not averse to painting the war as a struggle of good against evil, yet does so without turning his characters into cartoons. Instead of a grandly plotted crusade, this war is an on-the-fly, jerry-rigged affair, making the heroism all the more astonishing.
Realistic but still grand: a gripping odyssey of ordinary men in extraordinary times.