The Spies of Warsaw
I just got my copy of Alan Furst’s new novel, The Spies of Warsaw. There are only a handful of authors whose next work I actively pine for, but Furst is definitely at the top of the list. He refers to his series of Night Soldiers novels as “historical espionage.” I can’t put my finger on any one thing that makes his work so appealing to me. I think, instead, that it’s a combination of several things.
Furst is a hardworking author. He does his research thoroughly, so the sights, sounds, and smells of his locations come through believably. Somehow he does this in such a way that the “suspension of disbelief” is natural and effortless: open the book, and five minutes later I’m in Warsaw.
He understands brevity. I was talking about his work with a bookish friend, and I disparaged his earlier works. “Dross” was the word I used, I think. My friend countered that the earlier works weren’t bad, but that he just hadn’t learned to edit yet. I think he’s right. Now Mr. Furst is telling the same tale with half the words, and twice the quality. It works for me, particularly in this age where word processors make it far too easy to bang out fat novels without much craft. The writing is spare and intelligent.
I’m in awe of how he develops characters. It’s almost like watching a caricaturist at the fair: the outline becomes a recognizable person faster than you would think possible. It looks effortless, even easy, but it takes a lot of hard work and skill to reach that point. I like the characters he creates, even care about them, and I usually recognize people I know in them. He writes about fairly ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
So, those are among the reasons why I await Alan Furst novels. It’s always a little bittersweet, because the novels are not long, and knowing that the end is coming all too soon makes reading them both sad and precious. So c’mon, pull up a chair at Table Fourteen at the Brasserie Heininger in Paris.