Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Leonard Cohen of the spy genre

There is not much at which I trust the New York Times. I find their---using the editorial they---politics to be not much to my liking, far too redolent of trust in government, of the big idea, of the technocrat, far too dismissive of the little platoons of society in which, to various degrees, I place my trust. And yet, and yet . . .

There are things at which the Times does excel.

One of these things is the review of the novels of Alan Furst.

I began reading Furst's novels while I was still in the Suck, still wearing the pickle suit, when the Soviet Union was still, to some degree, The Menace To Be Feared. (The fears of childhood frequently linger into adulthood, and I was, and remain, an American child of the Cold War.) I believe that the first of his novels that I read was Dark Star, although quite possibly it was Night Soldiers. Whichever of the two it was, it---or they?---was/were a grand read, and I have continued to return to them over the years, for repeated readings and great enjoyment.

I am not quite sure by what accident of fate or chance I came upon Mr. Furst's books, umm, "first." I tend to haunt used book shops more than the NYT's book review pages, and yet, somehow, I came across them.

From the first read, I knew I was sunk. I have, since that time, consumed each new Furst novel as I came across it. No artist is entirely consistent, and this is true, of course, of Mr. Furst. His novels have included high and . . . not so high . . . points, although each of them has been a pleasure, and an intrigue.

The title for this post, and the New York Times reference, comes in a review of Mr. Furst's Blood of Victory by Janet Maslin, from this paragaraph in her review:

Mr. Furst, the author of last year's "Kingdom of Shadows" and a string of alluring earlier espionage novels in a similar vein, seems to arrive effortlessly at such assurance. He glides gracefully into an urbane pre-World War II Europe and describes that milieu with superb precision. The wry, sexy melancholy of his observations would be seductive enough in its own right — he is the Leonard Cohen of the spy genre — even without the sharp political acuity that accompanies it. Of tensions between Stalin and Hitler, Mr. Furst's latest protagonist resignedly observes, "Two gangsters, one neighborhood, they fight."

Two gangsters, one neighborhood, they fight.

A frequently quoted observation is that reading Furst's Night Soldiers series is like watching Casablanca for the first time. I quite like Casablanca, for all its flaws. I cannot argue with the frequently quoted observation.

I don't know what Mr. Furst would make of me. Perhaps an elegantly drawn, throwaway minor character? At best.

But you will not go far wrong, if you venture into Mr. Furst's novels. On this, I trust the New York Times, and that's saying something.

1 comment:

Logan Lamech said...

Casablanca, that's a bold comparison. Have not read Furst, sounds like I need to. I like the sounds of the two gangsters in one neighborhood, is "Blood of Victory" a good place to start?

Logan Lamech