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 , 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.
Red Gold 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 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).
Furst's most richly textured and, arguably, finest espionage novel.
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.
Subtly spun, sensitive to nuances, generous with contemporary detail and information discreetly conveyed..It’s hard to overestimate Kingdom of Shadows.
A triumph: evocative, heartfelt, knowing and witty.
Furst’s writing has the seductive shimmer of an urbane black-and-white Hollywood classic.
Provides unqualified pleasure, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys elegant, sophisticated, suspenseful writing.
Washington Post Book World
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
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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
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
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 missionsfrom which Morath always manages to return in time for an aperitif and an amorous romphe 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.
"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