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REVIEW: Alan Furst ‘Mission to Paris’

June 27, 2012

ALAN Furst, acclaimed as the master of the historical spy thriller, brings Austrian-born Hollywood movie star Frederic Stahl to a nervous French capital in the months before the start WWII in Mission to Paris.

Stahl, a wandering Viennese free spirit, finds himself the target of the Nazis who seek to use him for propaganda purposes, as he struggles to make sense of a continent that is plunging headlong into another monstrous conflict.

The book is wonderful for a number of reasons, less satisfying for others.

On the positive points, the back story of major French industrialists involved in campaigning for support for the Nazis and the huge amount of money invested in supporting the Reich, is engrossing and ramps up the subterfuge necessary in the spy thriller. There is a sense of the right wing in France insidiously embracing the Nazis to safeguard business interests and attack the emigrés who have sought refuge in the City of Lights. There is also a beautiful portrait of the powerlessness of the left to do anything as the Nazis steamroller across Europe with the support of the political and economic elites of France.

Stahl, himself, is an interesting character, the confident star who gets sucked into the world of espionage and, in many ways, approaches it like an actor, merely playing a part and getting out of his depth. He lacks heroism, but that is entirely in keeping with a man who is thrown into the start of WWII by studio politics.

The real positive of this book is the vividly drawn picture of one of the world’s great cities facing up to invasion for the another time in recent memory. The claustrophobic streets, the political battles, civil unrest and the rampant corruption give you a sense of impending doom.

However, this is no Le Carré. Narratively, the book lacks real danger in the set pieces. As Stahl, or the beautiful Russian film star Orlova, set about their business, there is no edge of the seat fear in their being caught. Also, the final sections outside of Paris lack oomph and the book drifts, for me, towards a predictable conclusion.

All that said, I think it is a brilliant screenplay in the making, and with David Tennant slotted in to take the lead in a BBC adaptation of Furst’s The Spies of Warsaw, I can see this being a barnstormer of a film or TV series.

Finally, I defy you to read this book and not see Jean Dujardin in the lead role. Made for it, he is, I say.

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