"Blood of Victory"
(Reviewed by Bill Robinson NOV 12, 2002)To call the classic spy novels of Alan Furst atmospheric is an undeserving understatement. His best-selling works are rich in fascinating description of people and place. And, the prose style is at once gripping and realistic. Furst skillfully combines edge-of-the-chair suspense with history-book accuracy.
His newest book, Blood of Victory, begins in November 1940. The main character is a Russian writer, I.A. Serebin. The battle lines between the forces of light and darkness are becoming fast and clearly drawn. Serebin, a thoughtful intellectual, knows on which side he falls.
The book begins with this prelude:
"In 1939, as the armies of Europe mobilized for war, the British secret services undertook operations to impede the exportation of Romanian oil to Germany. They failed.
"Then, in the autumn of 1940, they tried again."
It shouldn't spoil the plot to reveal that this second attempt is what the book is all about. Early on, Count Janos Polanyi, a master spy working for the British secret service, recruits Serebin. Serebin's assignment is to organize a sabotage effort that would impede, at least temporarily, the critical flow of oil from Romania to Germany. The book chronicles Serebin's always intriguing, often dangerous effort.
His legitimate role as editor of The Harvest, a Russian literary magazine, and as executive secretary of the International Russian Union, a Paris-base organization for Russian émigrés, provides Serebin effective cover as he travels throughout Europe. Still, he is often seen by various hostile authorities as suspicious. We follow him to exotic Istanbul as he meets with a Russian colleague. The Turkish Special Investigative Service trails him closely, as well. This is a time when suspicion and paranoia are running rampant continent-wide.
Serebin often travels with Marie-Gallante, his beautiful French mistress. (The two get together early in the story, and she is directly involved in the intrigue.) In Bucharest, the couple is almost shot in the street late one night as locals make a failed attempt to resist the Germans. The book has its fair share of such near misses. It is a true action-adventure thriller that would make a good, if not somewhat complicated, movie.
The story builds to an early-war effort to block the Danube, and, at least temporarily, halt the flow of much-needed oil into Germany. By the book's conclusion, we are sincerely sympathetic and heartily rooting for the good guys. We have come to understand what such a dangerous and critical attempt at espionage involves, both in terms of intelligence and ingenuity--not to mention a willingness to put lives on the line.
Furst is a master of overall story and of specific detail. But equally, if not more, important, he has the ability to create a real character in Serebin, someone that we care about. And, he can put us right inside Serebin's head. This is where such a dense and well-written novel exceeds a movie in its ability to engage and entertain.
Blood of Victory transcends both historical fiction and spy novel genres. It is timeless literature. And, the good news is that if you agree with this assessment, Furst has written six other novels of similar caliber. Some Furst fans put The Polish Officer at the top
of the list, but you can't go wrong starting anywhere. Intelligent thrills and enjoyment are guaranteed.
- Amazon readers rating: from 47 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Blood of Victory at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Night Soldiers (1988)
- Dark Star (1991)
- The Polish Officer (1995)
- The World at Night (1996)
- Red Gold (1999)
- Kingdom of Shadows (2001)
- Blood of Victory (2002)
- Dark Voyage (2004)
- The Foreign Correspondent (2006)
- The Spies of Warsaw (2008)
- Spies of the Balkans 2010)
- Mission to Paris (June 2012)
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- Official website for Alan Furst
- IdentityTheory.com interview wth Alan Furst
- J. Bradford DeLong's review of Dark Star
- CNN.com review of The Polish Officer
- Crime Time interview on Kingdom of the Shadows
- CNN.com review of Kingdom of the Shadows
- Review of Books review of Blood of Victory
- Houston Chronicle review of Dark Voyage
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