Random House (2019)
Random House Trade paperback reprint
by Shirley Wetzel
Paris, 1942: Paul Ricard is trying to keep a low profile in German-occupied Paris, writing his popular spy novels and enjoying the company of beautiful women. He loves his country and hates the fascists as much as the next Frenchman; while he has great respect for the men and women of the resistance, he doesn’t want to be one of them. He believes that writing the novels that give his downhearted countrymen a brief respite from the oppressive rule of the Nazis is contribution enough. After all, he is considered the French Eric Ambler, and that should count for something.
Things change when a dying man, running from the Gestapo, slips a paper into Ricard’s pocket, his eyes pleading with Ricard to keep it safe. On examination it appears to be a partial diagram of a military weapon. Ricard is no spy, but he’s spent enough time researching that life to know it could be important to the Allies. A man had just given his life trying to get the information into the right hands, and Ricard can’t simply turn his back.
Through a series of clandestine maneuvers, he delivers the paper, which is a blueprint for the detonator of a torpedo, to the appropriate authorities. His contact, Teodor, says that the spymasters in London are so impressed with Ricard’s intelligence and instincts that they offer him another, more complex, assignment. They want him to go to Germany to find out all he can about the weapon. The torpedoes are made by Polish slave laborers near Kiel, where the U-boat facilities are located.
Ricard is starting to wish he’d never gotten involved, but when Teodor pulls the patriot card, he gives in. The next step is to find a Polish interpreter. Ricard’s good friend Kasia is the immediate choice, but she’s currently in jail for bank robbery. Strings are pulled, and soon she and Ricard are on their way to northern Germany. His cover story is that he’s been assigned to write a newspaper story about a bridge opening in Lubeck, a city forty miles from his destination. The Gestapo agents who dog their heels don’t believe a word of it.
He wants nothing more than to return to his lowkey life, but that is not to be. The Allies are not winning the war, but they are no longer losing, and everyone is asked to do their part to swing the tide. After one more successful mission, and a meeting with a beautiful female spy, Ricard knows he’s in it for the duration.
In the dangerous days ahead, Ricard finds that the war brings out the best in people, and also the very worst. He has to figure out who’s who. Misjudging those he comes into contact with can mean the difference in life or death for him and those he cares about.
The New York Times has called Alan Furst “America’s eminent spy novelist,” deservedly so. Paris under occupation is as vivid as if happened yesterday. The tension is high, the detail is exquisite, whether Ricard is involved in a low-speed chase through medieval streets in a coal-powered taxi, playing cat and mouse with the Gestapo, or wrapped in the arms of a beautiful and fearless spy. Highly recommended.
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