Kingdom of Shadows

( 24 )

Overview

In spymaster Alan Furst's most electrifying thriller to date, Hungarian aristocrat Nicholas Morath—a hugely charismatic hero—becomes embroiled in a daring and perilous effort to halt the Nazi war machine in eastern Europe.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Overview

In spymaster Alan Furst's most electrifying thriller to date, Hungarian aristocrat Nicholas Morath—a hugely charismatic hero—becomes embroiled in a daring and perilous effort to halt the Nazi war machine in eastern Europe.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
The World at Night
Kingdom of Shadows is the sixth, stand-alone volume in Alan Furst's ongoing portrait of "the world at night": the cataclysmic 12-year period of Adolf Hitler's ascendancy. Following closely on the heels of 1999's Red Gold, an authoritative account of life in the French Resistance, Furst's latest is a compelling story of a world on the brink of war and a meticulously detailed re-creation of a vanished era.

Kingdom of Shadows begins in March of 1938 and ends during the summer of 1939, a period of uneasy "peace" in which national boundaries shift overnight, political alliances are forged and broken, anti-Semitic sentiments proliferate, and the armies of Europe mobilize for war. Significant events from this period -- all of them part of the fabric of this book -- include Hitler's annexation of Austria, the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the nonaggression pact between Stalin and Hitler, a pact that paves the way for the invasion of Poland and the formal beginning of the war.

Furst shows us these events from the partisan perspective of his deeply sympathetic hero, Nicholas Morath, a Hungarian aristocrat living in exile in Paris. Morath, on the surface, is an unlikely sort of hero. Part owner of a successful advertising agency, he cultivates the appearance of a bon vivant and ladies' man born to a life of privilege. Beneath that surface, he is a committed anti-Fascist, a decorated war hero, and a true descendant of his Magyar ancestors. Following the directives of his wealthy, enigmatic uncle, Count Janos Polanyi, Morath travels from his home in Paris to the trouble spots of Europe, gathering information, collecting money from anti-Nazi sympathizers, doing "favors" for influential friends, and putting himself repeatedly in harm's way.

Morath's adventures form the substance of this plotless, peripatetic novel, and they take him from the mountain fortresses of Czechoslovakia to a Romanian prison, from the aristocratic enclaves of Budapest to the decadent environs of Nazi-dominated Vienna. Together, they illuminate the changing face of a world sliding rapidly into chaos and night. They also illuminate the essential nature of Morath himself, a complex, romantic, thoroughly admirable figure who has dedicated his life to the destruction of National Socialism.

Furst has been compared to a great many writers -- Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, John le Carré -- but none of these comparisons seem particularly apt. Furst is very much his own man, and his six-volume cycle of war novels represents a unique achievement. At their best, as in Kingdom of Shadows, these books literally bring the past to life, resurrecting the sights, sounds, and tensions of a bygone world with passion, artistry, and scrupulous historical accuracy.

--Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has recently been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).

From the Publisher
"Furst’s writing has the seductive shimmer of an urbane black-and-white Hollywood classic."
--The New York Times

"Astonishingly, Alan Furst is not yet a household name. But perhaps [Kingdom of Shadows,] the sixth of his supple, elegant European spy novels, will do the trick."
--Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Subtly spun, sensitive to nuances, generous with contemporary detail and information discreetly conveyed....It’s hard to overestimate Kingdom of Shadows."
--Eugen Weber, Los Angeles Times

"A triumph: evocative, heartfelt, knowing and witty."
--Robert J. Hughes, The Wall Street Journal

Forbes
Three sentences into Kingdom of Shadows, you are already traveling deep in Alan Furst's world--a dark, sharply etched, pre-war Europe, electric with menace: "On March 10, 1938, the night train from Budapest pulled into the Gare du Nord... There were storms in the Ruhr Valley and down through Picardy and the sides of the wagons-lits glistened with rain. In the station at Vienna, a brick had been thrown at the window of the first-class compartment, leaving a frosted star in the glass." In six novels, beginning with the revelatory, intricate Night Soldiers--one of the richest spy books ever written--Furst has packed his brooding geography of the '30s and '40s with Nazi spymasters, Soviet assassins, Balkan bandits, rioting Fascists and ordinary neighbors turned slippery and vicious by fear. The Furstian hero, as with Kingdom of Shadows's Hungarian aristocrat Nicolas Morath, operates under the grinding pressure of imminent violence with too little information and too few decent choices. Though he's American, Furst has so far created a far bigger splash in England than back home, perhaps because he has removed America almost entirely from the stage, favoring instead the exiled and occupied of France and Central Europe, characters he seems to know from some intimate bone-knowledge. Think Le Carre without the binary certainties of the Cold War. With his two most recent books, Kingdom of Shadows and The Polish Officer, finally available here in paperback this fall, Alan Furst should begin getting his due as the most literate and inspired American writing espionage novels today.
—Thomas Jackson
Washington Post Book World
Provides unqualified pleasure, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys elegant, sophisticated, suspenseful writing.
Boston Globe
Furst's most richly textured and, arguably, finest espionage novel.
Janet Maslin
Astonishingly, Alan Furst is not yet a household name. But perhaps [Kingdom of Shadows,] the sixth of his supple, elegant European spy novels, will do the trick.
Eugen Weber
Subtly spun, sensitive to nuances, generous with contemporary detail and information discreetly conveyed..It’s hard to overestimate Kingdom of Shadows.
Robert J. Hughes
A triumph: evocative, heartfelt, knowing and witty.
New York Times
Furst’s writing has the seductive shimmer of an urbane black-and-white Hollywood classic.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The desperation of "stateless" people trying to escape the Nazi redrawing of the European map in the late 1930s pervades Furst's (Night Soldiers; Red Gold, etc.) marvelous sixth espionage thriller. On a rainy night in 1938, the train from Budapest pulls into Paris bearing Nicholas Morath, a playboy Hungarian expatriate and sometime spy for his uncle, a wealthy Hungarian diplomat based in the French capital. Morath, a veteran hero of the Great War and a Parisian for many years, now finds himself forced to rely on former enemies to try to rescue Eastern European fugitives displaced by Hitler's aggression. His eclectic circle includes a Russian gangster, a pair of destitute but affable near-tramps, and a smooth-talking SS officer. Smuggling forged passports, military intelligence documents and cash through imminent war zones, Morath time and again returns in thankless triumph to the glittering salons of Paris. Furst expertly weaves Morath's apparently unconnected assignments into the web of a crucial 11th-hour international conspiracy to topple Hitler before all-out war engulfs Europe again, counterbalancing scenes of fascist-inspired chaos with the sounds, smells and anxieties of a world dancing on the edge of apocalypse. The novel is more than just a cloak-and-dagger thrill ride; it is a time machine, transporting readers directly into the dread period just before Europe plunged into its great Wagnerian g tterd mmerung. This is Furst's best book since The Polish Officer, and in it he proves himself once again a master of literary espionage. (Jan. 19) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Furst has earned deserved acclaim for his lapidary espionage novels (The World at Night, Red Gold), set just before World War II. His noir heroes navigate a world of betrayed promises and lost friends, seeking to derail Nazi lackeys and only half believing in their own chance of success or survival. A welcome addition to Furst's opus, Kingdom is all mood and nuance, set in a drowning world of moral entropy: "They have created a cheap, soiled, empty world, and now we have the pleasure of living in it," says one character. The protagonist, Nicholas Morath, is dragged into futile delaying actions in Eastern Europe and France, while Hitler's minions gobble up countries without resistance. "You're not a virgin," exclaims his uncle. "You have to get your hands dirty whether you like the idea or not. Try and forgive the world for being what it is." An exceptional piece of writing, with engaging characters and moments of sharp, unexpected violence, this is recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/00.]--David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Janet Maslin
Astonishingly, Alan Furst is not yet a household name. But perhaps the sixth of his supple, elegant European spy novels will do the trick, what with its beguiling sophistication, knowing political overview and utterly assured narrative tone. Centered in Paris as Europe faces the prospect of what one Furst character ruefully calls "the rule of the invertebrates," Kingdom of Shadows offers a realm of glamour and peril that are seamlessly intertwined and seem to arise effortlessly from the author's consciousness. Mr. Furst is not one of those spy writers who have to strain, name-drop or cook up mind-boggling feats to assure the reader that his hero is an interesting man.
New York Times
Wilson
Furst's latest and most impressive novel, Kingdom of Shadows, offers several forays across the political quicksands of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and France just before the Second World War. This densely atmospheric thriller begins in the gilded world of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie, where men look through sheer curtains at the ''ecstatic gray light of a rainy Parisian morning,'' drink from bottles of 1922 Echézeaux and employ the services of courtesans with names like Mimi Moux... As Furst details Morath's emotional and political vertigo, Kingdom of Shadows is undeniably intelligent and harrowing.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Furst (Red Gold, 1999, etc.) returns to a bygone Paris and its perversely menacing environs, this time spotlighting a gallant, impeccably suave Hungarian who abruptly leaves the City of Light's parks and cafés on daring missions of intrigue. Debonair debauchee Nicholas Morath is living high in 1938 as a member of the tout Paris, a whirling community of gracefully aging royals, devil-may-care artists, and cynical denizens of the demimonde torn between lighting out for the seaside villa in Normandy, plunging into the casinos of Deauville, or continuing their hedonistic wallow in the stylish city that both adores and ignores them. Morath puts in the odd hour or two at his advertising agency, but prefers the company of his sexy Argentine mistress Cara, who has just been painted nude by Picasso. Just when his life seems to have reached its delightfully dull peak, Morath is summoned to lunch by his uncle, Count Janos Polyani, a crafty official in the Hungarian legation. Now that Hitler has annexed Austria, portending trouble for Hungarians in their native land and abroad, the decorous Count has a favor or four to ask of his nephew. The favors, presented in four interconnected novellas, send the quietly courageous Morath into the Paris expatriate underworld and on several missions into the beautiful gloom of prewar Eastern Europe, where the Reich is opening old wounds and stirring up ancient hatreds. In a series of increasingly dangerous missions—from which Morath always manages to return in time for an aperitif and an amorous romp—he finds himself played as both king and pawn by devious intriguers who all know that they are living in the last light of adyingera.Furst's narrative, like its hero, lingers so long at the café table that a great deal of the suspense lies in hoping that suspense will arrive. Fortunately, the action scenes are fresh, brutal, and well worth the wait.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375758263
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/9/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 133,593
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Furst
Often compared to Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, Alan Furst is a master of the spy thriller and one of the great war novelists of our time. He is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, and The World at Night. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Alan Furst may have the narrowest purview in literature. His books – which he calls historical espionage novels -- are all set in Europe between 1933 and 1945, and all are stories of World War II intrigue.

But that brief eight-year period in history has given Furst a rich amount of source material; although he had published a handful of earlier novels (now out of print, some of them fetch hundreds of dollars) Furst hit his stride with 1988’s Night Soldiers , his first book to concentrate on the decade that would forever change the world. Furst had found his niche. As Salon rhapsodized in a 2001 review, "...to talk about one of his books is to talk about them all. He is writing one large book in which each new entry adds a piece to the mosaic of Europe in the years leading up to the war, as created by a partisan of the senses."

Furst's books are grounded in their author’s extensive research of the period, and are written in an almost newsy prose broken occasionally by beautiful, lyrical passages describing, say, a Paris morning in the 1940s, or night at the Czechoslavakian-Hungarian border. History buffs will find much to love here; while the books are fiction, some of the details are factual. In Night Soldiers, for example, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island exchanged their clothing for new outfits; in reality, the American government often bought clothing from immigrants to use as costumes for its spies.

And while Furst’s novels are entertaining and, often, elegant, they are not easy reads: the books traverse through a wide swath of Europe (an important character itself in Furst’s fiction), and characters duck behind corners and sometimes stumble into the continent’s more remote regions (while not partying in Paris, that is). Though his male protagonists manage to find and sometimes lose lovers, Furst’s books are primarily concerned with the moral slipperiness involved in fighting off Hitler's advance, where even the best intentions could produce regrettable results.

Furst's books have grown leaner and tauter over the years, the result of a conscious effort "to say more by saying less." Notwithstanding this paring back, or perhaps because of it, the praise for his books only seems to multiply, and Furst’s writing has lost none of its veracity or suspense. Furst, who many critics consider literature’s best-kept secret, may not be a household name yet, but with such buzz, his low profile won’t last much longer.

Good To Know

Night Soldiers originated from a piece Furst wrote for Esquire in 1983. He was also a reporter for the International Herald Tribune and wrote a biography of cookie entrepeneur Debbie Fields.

Furst wrote in a 2002 essay, "For me, Anthony Powell is a religion. I read A Dance to the Music of Time every few years."

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    1. Hometown:
      Sag Harbor, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Oberlin College

Read an Excerpt

On the tenth of March 1938, the night train from Budapest pulled into the Gare du Nord a little after four in the morning. There were storms in the Ruhr Valley and down through Picardy and the sides of the wagon-lits glistened with rain. In the station at Vienna, a brick had been thrown at the window of a first-class compartment, leaving a frosted star in the glass. And later that day there'd been difficulties at the frontiers for some of the passengers, so in the end the train was late getting into Paris.

Nicholas Morath, traveling on a Hungarian diplomatic passport, hurried down the platform and headed for the taxi rank outside the station. The first driver in line watched him for a moment, then briskly folded his Paris-Midi and sat up straight behind the wheel. Morath tossed his bag on the floor in the back and climbed in after it. "L'avenue Bourdonnais," he said. "Number eight."

Foreign, the driver thought. Aristocrat. He started his cab and sped along the quai toward the Seventh Arrondissement. Morath cranked the window down and let the sharp city air blow in his face.

8, avenue de la Bourdonnais. A cold, haut bourgeois fortress of biscuit-colored stone block, flanked by the legations of small countries. Clearly, the people who lived there were people who could live anywhere, which was why they lived there. Morath opened the gate with a big key, walked across the courtyard, used a second key for the building entry. "Bonsoir, Séléne," he said. The black Belgian shepherd belonged to the concierge and guarded the door at night. A shadow in the darkness, she came to his hand for a pat, then sighed as she stretched back out on the tile. Séléne, he thought, goddess of the moon.

Cara's apartment was the top floor. He let himself in. His footsteps echoed on the parquet in the long hallway. The bedroom door was open, by the glow of a streetlamp he could see a bottle of champagne and two glasses on the dressing table, a candle on the rosewood chest had burned down to a puddle of golden wax.

"Nicky?"

"Yes."

"What time is it?"

"Four-thirty."

"Your wire said midnight." She sat up, kicked free of the quilts. She had fallen asleep in her lovemaking costume, what she called her "petite chemisette," silky and black and very short, a dainty filigree of lace on top. She leaned forward and pulled it over her head, there was a red line across her breast where she'd slept on the seam.

She shook her hair back and smiled at him. "Well?" When he didn't respond she said, "We are going to have champagne, aren’t we?"

Oh no. But he didn't say it. She was twenty-six, he was forty-four. He retrieved the champagne from the dressing table, held the cork, and twisted the bottle slowly until the air hissed out. He filled a glass, gave it to her, poured one for himself.

"To you and me, Nicky," she said.

It was awful, thin and sweet, as he knew it would be, the caviste in the rue Saint-Dominique cheated her horribly. He set his glass on the carpet, went to the closet, began to undress.

"Was it very bad?"

Morath shrugged. He'd traveled to a family estate in Slovakia where his uncle's coachman lay dying. After two days, he died. "Austria was a nightmare," he said.

"Yes, it's on the radio."

He hung his suit on a hanger, bundled up his shirt and underwear and put it in the hamper.

"Nazis in the streets of Vienna," he said. "Truckloads of them, screaming and waving flags, beating up Jews."

"Like Germany."

"Worse." He took a fresh towel off a shelf in the closet.

"They were always so nice."

He headed for the bathroom.

"Nicky?"

"Yes?"

"Come sit with me a minute, then you can bathe."

He sat on the edge of the bed. Cara turned on her side, pulled her knees up to her chin, took a deep breath and let it out very slowly, pleased to have him home at last, waiting patiently for what she was showing him to take effect.

Oh well. Caridad Valentina Maria Westendorf (the grandmother) de Parra (the mother) y Dionello. All five feet, two inches of her. From one of the wealthiest families in Buenos Aires. On the wall above the bed, a charcoal nude of her, drawn by Pablo Picasso in 1934 at an atelier in the Montmartre, in a shimmering frame, eight inches of gold leaf Outside, the streetlamp had gone out. Through a sheer curtain, he could see the ecstatic gray light of a rainy Parisian morning.

Morath lay back in the cooling water of the bathtub, smoking a Chesterfield and tapping it, from time to time, into a mother-of-pearl soap dish. Cara my love. Small, perfect, wicked, slippery. "A long, long night," she'd told him. Dozing, sometimes waking suddenly at the sound of a car. "Like blue movies, Nicky, my fantasies, good and bad, but it was you in every one of them. I thought, he isn't coming, I will pleasure myself and fall dead asleep." But she didn't, said she didn't. Bad fantasies? About him? He'd asked her but she only laughed. Slavemaster? Was that it? Or naughty old Uncle Gaston, leering away in his curious chair? Perhaps something from de Sade—and now you will be taken to the abbot's private chambers.

Or, conversely, what? The "good" fantasies were even harder to imagine. The Melancholy King? Until tonight, I had no reason to live. Errol Flynn? Cary Grant? The Hungarian Hussar?

He laughed at that, because he had been one, but it was no operetta. A lieutenant of cavalry in the Austro-Hungarian army, he'd fought Brusilov's cossacks in the marshes of Polesia, in 1916 on the eastern front. Outside Lutsk, outside Kovel and Tarnopol. He could still smell the burning barns.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Foreword

1. How does Nicholas Morath's experience as a cavalry officer in World War I affect his behavior in this book?

2. During many of Morath's assignments, he acts with very limited knowledge--he knows what he is to do, but not why, or who is involved. His uncle, a diplomat at the Hungarian legation, does not tell him the full story. Why? Is his uncle morally right to do this? Is he right in any sense? How is this used as a plot device?

3. The first verse of the Hungarian national anthem, quotes in the epigraph of Kingdom of Shadows, speaks of a people "torn by misfortune," a nation that has "already paid for its sins." How is the tone of this national anthem different from that of other patriotic songs? What can you infer about the history of Hungary from its national anthem?

4. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe with great accuracy. What elements of description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no first-hand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?

5. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels" and as "spy novels". He call them "historical spy novels." Some critics have insisted they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?

6. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite inthis book? Characters in Furst's books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? And, if you know, how do you know? What in the book is guiding you toward that opinion?

7. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the end of the war in comfort? If not, why not?

8. Love affairs are always prominent in Furst's novels, and "love in a time of war" is a recurring theme. Do you think these affairs might last, and lead to marriage and domesticity?

9. How do the notions of good and evil work in Kingdom of Shadows? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero at the end of the book? Do you like Furst's use of realism in the novel?

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Reading Group Guide

1. How does Nicholas Morath's experience as a cavalry officer in World War I affect his behavior in this book?

2. During many of Morath's assignments, he acts with very limited knowledge--he knows what he is to do, but not why, or who is involved. His uncle, a diplomat at the Hungarian legation, does not tell him the full story. Why? Is his uncle morally right to do this? Is he right in any sense? How is this used as a plot device?

3. The first verse of the Hungarian national anthem, quotes in the epigraph of Kingdom of Shadows, speaks of a people "torn by misfortune," a nation that has "already paid for its sins." How is the tone of this national anthem different from that of other patriotic songs? What can you infer about the history of Hungary from its national anthem?

4. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe with great accuracy. What elements of description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no first-hand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?

5. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels" and as "spy novels". He call them "historical spy novels." Some critics have insisted they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?

6. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in Furst's books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? And, if you know, how do you know? What in the book is guiding you toward that opinion?

7. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the end of the war in comfort? If not, why not?

8. Love affairs are always prominent in Furst's novels, and "love in a time of war" is a recurring theme. Do you think these affairs might last, and lead to marriage and domesticity?

9. How do the notions of good and evil work in Kingdom of Shadows? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero at the end of the book? Do you like Furst's use of realism in the novel?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 19, 2011

    Feeling Slightly Rushed

    Published just a year after his previous work, it seems like a brutally edited film. Furst's rich, dark prose is wonderfully intoxicating. But scenes cut from one to the next, jumping in time and place with zero transition, almost as though there wasn't time to waste on the interim. Still, the plot and the characters absorb and the read is satisfying, wistfully over too soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2001

    relive prewar europe

    fascinating romantic story of prewar bordercrossings by night. if you have lived yourself through those days, you are amazed at the authenticity of the many details, long forgotten, but brought back -heaven knows how- by the author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Excellent example of noir style

    Has an casablanca atmosphere with underplayed sense of danger.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    Kingdom of Gardinia

    Kingdom of Gardinia

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2002

    Disjointed, but realistically so...overall very good

    Didn't hit me as hard as Night Soldiers. Many subplots, a tiny bit difficult to follow, but not bad. Good use of suggestion. Interesting to have a fatalist in Paris - of course the period would have lent itself to that. As always, Furst's infusion of history makes the story a legitimate learning experience as well as an adventure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2002

    If you like Eric Ambler or Casablanca....

    For those that like exciting spy novels similar to those of Eric Ambler, and in atmosphere similar to the movie Casablance, I highly recommend this novel. The worldwise hero, somewhat cynical, but in the end heroic, honorable and brave - a great character protrayal by Mr. Furst. I plan to read the rest of this series.

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    Posted January 21, 2010

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    Posted August 20, 2010

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    Posted December 6, 2010

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