This is a typical Alan Furst spy novel, set in Paris just before World War II. A group of antifascist Italian émigrés publish an underground newspaper that’s distributed within Mussolini’s Italy. The main character is a correspondent for Reuters who we first meet in Spain during that country’s civil war. He’s also the editor of the underground newspaper and the lover of the wife a German aristocrat in Hitler’s Berlin. There’s not a lot of action — Furst specializes in setting, atmosphere, and character — until the end but a sense of menace builds throughout the book.
One common element in all Furst’s “Night Soldiers” books, which interlock but aren’t exactly a series in the conventional sense, is the fictional Brasserie Heininger”. It’s based on the real Brasserie Bofinger, which I’d love to visit despite the fact that French restaurants intimidate me.
I’ve really enjoyed this series, but this book was a big disappointment. Instead of being a Matthew Quinton story set in the Restoration era, it’s set in Elizabethan times, during the lifetime of Quinton’s grandfather. The attempt to fill in the Quinton family history might have worked but for Davies’ decision to write it from multiple points of view, all his main characters having been polite enough to leave complete dramatic accounts that include direct quotes. Not only are the characters’ voices insufficiently unique, but the rapid jumping from one narrator to another doesn’t help tell what is already the weakest story in the series.
I really hope Davies gets the series back on track with the next Matthew Quinton book.
Now, what if somebody in 1980 wrote a solid thriller (albeit with weak characterization) about a businessman who becomes president with Russian help? Well, Ted Allbeury did just that. It should have been called “The Twentieth Day of January, Or, Collusion”.
Cue the Twilight Zone theme while reading these quotes from the novel (“Powell” is the president-elect, “Kleppe” is a Soviet agent, “Dempsy” is Powell’s campaign manager, and “Nolan” should have been named “Mueller”):
“You know this whole thing makes me sick.” He opened his eyes and looked at them both. “The whole bloody nation is excited that they’ve got a new kind of man. Somebody who isn’t a lifetime professional politician. The man who’s going to lead them to the American dream. By now I should be used to it all, but this …” and he waved his hand, disgust on his face “… this is really obscene. I find this more disgusting every time my mind steps back from the details. Those bastards in Moscow planning this abuse.” He wagged a podgy hand at Nolan. “You remember that, Nolan. Even if we can stop it and Powell’s impeached, those bastards have won. The American people won’t ever be able to trust the system any more, not just the politicians but the whole bloody set-up.”
After they had proved that the President-Elect was a reed that bent to Soviet winds, what then? What happened? Every solution spelt disaster. Deep depression for millions of people, a hundred McCarthys, all the words of 1776 made nought, the checks and balances exposed as a dream, and an icy tension between the two most powerful nations in the world. And the final excuse for the buttons to be pressed to turn a grinding ache into a final amputation. It was like working diligently to prove you had cancer. Whatever happened was going to be bad for America.
But there would be others whose attitudes would depend on party politics, and some of them could be part of Kleppe’s network. He had seen the names in the black books from Kleppe’s water tank.
“Did Powell know what was going on?”
Dempsey swung his legs down so that he was sitting up. His hands massaged his face, his fingers rubbing his eyes. He looked up slowly at Nolan. “He was never told in so many words, but he knew all right.”
“He knew the strike was fixed?”
“Yes, but he wasn’t party to the fixing. He wasn’t party to any of it. He just went along, turning a blind eye and reaping the benefits.”
“Since he was elected have you given him specific instructions?”
“The defence cuts, withdrawing troops from NATO. Those were your instructions?”
“He knew where they came from?”
“Sure he knew. I told him.”
“Did he protest?”
“Nolan, he was riding a tiger. He daren’t get off or he’d have been eaten. And he knew it.”
“What was the Soviets’ ultimate aim?”
Dempsey shrugged. “God knows. I doubt if Kleppe knows.”
I’m now going to annoy both my readers with a string of nearly empty posts. I’m trying to catch the blog up to my reading. As usual, I read a couple of dozen books without posting anything. A half dozen were from a binge read of the “Destroyermen series“. I like the series (with one exception so far). But because a) my comments about each one are mostly the same, b) I’m behind, and c) I’m lazy, I’m just going to list them in the next few posts.