The throes of masculine existential torment are an unquestionable specialty for Furst (The Polish Officer, 1995), whose WW II fiction combines so much broad historical erudition with such genuine humanity that they ought to be made required reading. Once again, Furst loads the entire burden of an aspect of the war on the shoulders of a single character, then scrutinizes that character as he changes. It's the old rat-in-the-maze game, played for very high stakes. Jean Casson, at the outset, is a slightly libertine, slightly dissolute, slightly bankrupt film producer with several moderately successful but unremarkable movies under his belt. Above all else, Casson is French, and above being French, he's Parisian. Though his tastes may be definitively bourgeois, his heart is restless, a condition typified by his extremely Gallic womanizing. On the verge of developing his first real hit--a project called Hotel Dorado--his life is shattered by the Nazi drive through Belgium and into Paris. Inhabiting an occupied city filled with repulsive Germans and ready collaborators, Casson's long-brewing crisis of purpose gets him embroiled in an elaborate double-cross that involves the British Secret Service, furtive trips to Spain and to the French countryside, and a host of shadowy minor characters, each perfectly captured in Furst's lacerating prose. A terrified, reluctant spy, Casson survives mainly on panache and dumb luck. There's plenty of sex amid the rubble of a wrecked Continent, but Casson's heart truly belongs to Citrine, the beautiful young actress who's set to star in Hotel Dorado. At times, the author seems more concerned with atmosphere than action, but fans will recognize his gift for making every gesture an expression of character and allow him to get away with it. The payoff is worth the wait. Furst has somehow discovered the perfect venue for uniting the European literary tragedy with the Anglo-American spy thriller. Nobody does it better.