Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews



The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst








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Master spy novelist Alan Furst’s latest novel, The Spies of Warsaw, begins in the autumn of 1937 in Poland. The French want to obtain as much intelligence as they can about German’s war plans, and to that end they send a hero from the Great War, protagonist Jean-Francois Mercier to Warsaw as the French Army attaché with a mission to run spies and gather intelligence. Packed with historical details and supported by well-developed characters and perfect plot momentum, The Spies of Warsaw is a fine spy novel that will bring pleasure to many readers. Here’s an excerpt, pp. 50-52:


At the Europejski, they were led up a marble stairway to a private din­ing room, all wood-paneled walls and polished floor. Beneath crystal chandeliers, a long table was set for thirty; the sheen of the damask tablecloth, the heavy silver, and the gold-rimmed china glowed in the light of a dozen candelabra. They were greeted at the door by an offi­cer of the Polish General Staff and his splendidly bejeweled wife. "We are so very pleased you could join us," she said, her smile gracious and warm. The room hummed with conversation; officers in uniform, most of the other men in evening wear, most of the women in formal gowns. Anna, perhaps momentarily taken aback by all the glitter, took Mercier's arm. He was instantly aware of the touch of her hand, resting lightly on his sleeve.

From some distant century, an ancient waiter in a swallowtail coat moved toward them, parchment face lit by a beatific smile, parchment hands holding a silver tray, which trembled slightly, bearing two glasses of champagne. Drinks in hand, they watched him shuffle back toward the kitchen. Anna started to say something, but another officer wife descended on them, leading a small fellow in a dark suit, one of the men from Renault. After the introductions, she swept away, in search of other strays.

"So, Monsieur Blanc," Mercier said, "a worthwhile visit, so far?" "Yes, I would say it is; we are making our case. The R-Thirty-five tank is a magnificent machine."

"And what do you do for the Renault company?"

"I am one of the senior engineers—I concern myself mostly with treads."

From Anna, an appreciative, encouraging nod. Treads! "Yes, that's me. And you, colonel?"

"I'm the military attaché, at the embassy."

"Ah, then you must support us—these Poles can be stubborn. Don't you think, Madame Mercier?"

"Oh yes, indeed, terribly stubborn."

"Tell me, Major Kulski," Anna said, "do you favor the Renault machine?"

"Mmm, well . . ."

"Oh, perhaps you are unpersuaded."

"Mm. And how do you come to be here tonight, Pana Szarbek?" "I'm accompanying Colonel Mercier. He's over there, by the pillar."

"Then you must live in the city."

"Yes, I do, major."

"I wondered. You see, when I'm done with the army for the day, I'm something of an artist; that's my real passion in life. So, allow me to say that you would make a superb model, for a life drawing. Truly, superb."

Mercier shook hands with Colonel Vyborg and said, "How goes the visit?"

"Not too badly. This afternoon I had a talk with Habich's assistant—you know Habich?"

"I've met him."

"The best armaments designer in Europe. Anyhow, his assistant believes that if we buy this worm of an R-Thirty-five, the engineers can do something to improve it."

"That's encouraging. Are they thinking about numbers?"

"No, not yet. We need to get our hands on one of them and Habich's people will tear it to pieces, then we'll see what can be done, and then we'll talk about numbers."

"So, you're with the League of Nations." The woman was in her sev­enties, Anna thought; her husband, with grand white cavalry mus­taches, at least in his eighties. "Such a hopeful notion, my dear, really. A league, of nations! How far we've come, in this dreadful world. My husband here, the general, was the late-life son of a colonel in the Hussars. In 1852, that was. A great hero, my husband's father, he fought in the Battle of Leipzig and was decorated for bravery-we still have the medal."

"At Leipzig, really."

"That's right, my dear, with Napoleon."

On every page, the atmosphere that Furst describes will place readers in the time and place he presents, and the result is an enjoyable reading experience of The Spies of Warsaw.


Steve Hopkins, July 18, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the August 2008 issue of Executive Times


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