Heir to the Throne
Said to be the heir to the legacy of iconic names like Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, Alan Furst is a United States-born Jewish writer who has mainly focused on historical spy novels. He has also stated the names of the household names Arthur Koestler and Joseph Roth as major sources of inspiration for his works. Besides writing novels, he also worked as a copywriter and magazine writer as well as a columnist before his debut.
His work usually takes place before or during the Second World War and he is praised for his accurate representation of the world in that time period, notably Eastern Europe. He likes to work with different settings and characters as an author and this is made clear by none of his works -with two exceptions which I will share with you in a little bit- sharing a common plot.
Culturally Rich Environment
He was born in nineteen-forty-one in New York City and grew up in Manhattan, the Upper West Side to be specific. He grew up in a culturally rich environment as his family has ancestral ties to Russia, Latvia, and Poland. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and completed his education with the master’s degree he received from Penn State in nineteen-sixty-seven.
Best Alan Furst Books
|Night Soldiers||9.06/10||512 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Dark Star||9.54/10||466 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|The Polish Officer||9.44/10||304 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|The World at Night||9.30/10||304 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Red Gold||9.18/10||290 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
The author wrote four standalone novels from nineteen-seventy-six to nineteen-eighty-eight which were all met with little to no success. He was inspired to write an espionage novel after an Esquire-fonded assignment to Eastern Europe and he published the book Night Soldiers. It went on to be his first success and turned his writing style on its head. He decided to make it a series and has been writing for it exclusively since.
We will foreseeably start our article with the first place holder among all of the best selling Alan Furst books, Night Soldiers. The nineteen-eighty-eight publication date of the book marks the date of the author discovering his talent for writing historical spy fiction. There are also clear indications throughout the book of how the author’s trip to Eastern Europe exactly inspired him.
The events of the story take place after the murder of a young man by local Bulgarian fascists in nineteen-thirty-four. He is the brother of Khristo Stoianev who is a member of the Soviet secret intelligence service NKVD. Khristo is deported to Spain to play the Soviet’s cards in the Spanish civil war taking place but he deserts Spain after receiving the news that he will be a lamb to slaughter as a part of Stalin’s rampage.
A Personal Story of Massive Scale
Night soldiers does an exceptional job of representing the struggle taking place between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Both parties were driven by an unrelenting desire to take over Europe and their struggle affected not only them but also every single person on the continent. This book manages to tell a story this big on the scale of just one personal story and this makes it one of the best Alan Furst books.
Second in our article, we have another one of the most popular Alan Furst books which is also the first step taken by the author to make Night Soldiers a long-breathed series. It takes place during the pre-Second World War era and also includes Paris as one of its main locations. It also visits the critical cities of Moscow, Berlin, and Prague which were the logistic centers of the war.
At the heart of the story, stands one man by the name of Andre Szara. Andre is a man hardened by time as he survived not only the pogroms of Poland but also the civil wars of Russia. He now works for the Soviet intelligence service NKVD as a fully blown-out spymaster operating in Paris. Luck shines on him when he finds an agent who can provide him with priceless information from Berlin.
Inner Workings of the Soviet Intelligence
What Dark Star does really well is to portray the inner workings of the Soviet intelligence organs down to its most repetitive and monotone aspects. The most impressive part is that it does so as it also provides us with a thrill-filled story of intrigue and danger. The book pulls you into the world of spies completely and thus, it is one of the biggest contenders for the best Alan Furst book title.
I will now let you in on some of my thoughts on the third piece on our list and one of the best rated Alan Furst books, The Polish Officer. Poland plays a very important role in the story as you can probably guess but the book takes us for a ride that spans all across Europe including the familiar city of Paris and Ukraine.
The story takes place in the September of nineteen-thirty-nine, just as the Polish capital Warsaw is invaded by Hitler and his army. Captain Alexander de Milja comes into play as a recruit of the underground intelligence service of the underground Polish intelligence service. His mission is to deliver the national gold reserve of the fallen country to safety in a Europe that is riddled with war.
A World Without Sense
The Polish Officer does very well to show us a world without any sense left in it. I mean, how could a single man be tasked with the transportation of a country’s gold reserve? It also shows us how ruthless and paranoid Europe had become when its existence was threatened by some of the strongest wartime armies the world had ever seen. For me, it stands out among other books in the series by its quality.
Continuing to rate the books of the best Alan Furst series, we will take a little peek at the fourth book The World at Night. Paris plays a major role in the story once again and this time around, the army of the Third Reich has just invaded it. It is the story of what people had to do in the case that their country pulls the shortest stack in a war and is in a state of survival.
Jean Casson is a Parisian film producer belonging to a rather higher class. His bourgeois life is turned upside down with the occupation of his town. He soon learns though, that he can carry on living his luxurious life with enough money and connections. He gets back on track without much trouble but now, his conscience is not in the right space. He will accept to take part in the British secret service, not knowing it will bring him his death.
Sharing a Plot
You might remember that I said only two of the author’s books shared a common plot. Well, this one of the best Alan Furst novels is one of those. It shares its story with Red Gold which we will get to in a second. To get back on the subject of summarizing this book, it is a thrilling story of being defeated in every sense of the word and putting everything at risk for valor.
Next up on our Alan Furst book list, we will discuss the “sequel” to the previous book, Red Gold. It takes the story up from almost the exact point The World at Night left it and continues the story of our fey film producer Jean Casson. It is at least as compelling as its predecessor and it manages to amaze you even more with the life and the struggles of our protagonist.
The curtains open and Jean Casson stands alone under the spotlight, he could save nothing else but his life and is now dimeless. Paris has been crushed completely under the ruthless control of the invaders and this only makes the mental situation of Casson worse. Thankfully, he gets recruited by a sympathetic cop to serve as a diplomat for improving connections with the communists and to plan out a mass transfer of weapons.
If you asked me, the story of Red Gold is not that interesting at all. However, it is still a brilliant book that owes all of its gratitude to the excellent writing of the author. This one of the best novels by Alan Furst gives you the feeling of survival. In that aspect, it is even among the best books by anyone that I have read. With this two-book story, First brings us face to face with the desperate reality of the Second World War.
Halfway through our Alan Furst book reviews, I will give you a small review of the book Kingdom of Shadows. It is told by many to be the most thrilling book written by the author which I think is because of the grandiose scale of its story. So far in the series, we have only seen regular people trying to uphold their beliefs or just survive the war. This time, it is something much bigger.
The story takes place in the late nineteen-thirties and it focuses on a Hungarian war veteran by the name of Nicholas Morath. He has been far from war in the last twenty years and is spending his days in the upper circles of Parisian society. When his diplomat uncle Count Polanyi offers him a job that could stop Hitler from overtaking Hungary though, he will launch himself to the heart of the danger disguised as a businessman.
I found this book to be a uniquely moving piece in the series. We have two who have given everything they are to save their country and built great lives for themselves afterward but still can not sit around when their country is in danger yet again. It is a great book that represents the fighting spirit of an honest man and the nobility of Austro-Hungarians. Definitely, one of the best books by Alan Furst
Blood of Victory, taking the sixth space in our Alan Furst books ranked list, will be the next piece that we will discuss. It takes its title from a petroleum conference speech of a French senator that goes; “Oil; the blood of the earth, has become, in time of war, the blood of victory.” and it talks about the important resource of oil as you can guess.
I.A. Serebin who is a Russian writer involved in the war through no wish of his own has been recruited for a British secret services operation run by the Hungarian master spy Count Janos Polanyi. He has a mission that can change the tides of the war, to sabotage the oil lines of Nazi Germany and deprive their mass body of war of its blood.
Out of Options
The story takes us east, to the Balkans once again. This time around though, we are further East than we have ever been as the setting even includes Turkey which did not actively partake in the war. It also uses a character who does not want to take part in the war but is out of options. Besides that though, there is not much else and Blood of Victory is thus not a contender for the best Alan Furst novel title for me.
The following piece of the best Alan Furst book series is a book that is much more global than the previous ones, Dark Voyage. It does not narrate a person overtaking and executing a mission but instead, it tells us the story of a mission as a whole. We are presented with the opportunity to witness everything that goes into completing a wartime intelligence operation.
The story starts with the old Spanish freighter steamer docking at the Tagus River in Lisbon to get loaded with cork oak, sardine cans and cooking oil containers. However, the ship is not what it seems. It is the Dutch ship Noordendam on a secret mission under the lead of Captain Eric DeHaan. The captain and his crew recruited from all over the world are on a British Royal Navy mission to transport detection equipment.
From Every Angle
Dark Voyage is proof of the Night Soldiers’ claim to the best Alan Furst book series title. It gives us a glimpse into the battles of the Second World War’s spy war in a way that only a numbered few can. It handles the subject from every angle; the desperation, the fight for survival, the common cause bringing people together, and most importantly, the thoughts and emotions of the partakers.
Nearing the end of our article, I will give you my thoughts on the second from last piece among the Alan Furst books that I have in order for you in this article. It is very unique in terms of the concepts that are woven into its story. Do not get me wrong, it is a Second World War espionage novel and it handles similar themes to the other books but it also talks about something very distinct, compassion.
It is the winter of nineteen-thirty-eight in Paris and we are met with the Trieste refugee Carlo Weisz who is now working as an editor in Reuters as a foreign correspondent. At the start of the story, he is on a trip to Spain to report the state of the Spanish Civil War. When he returns though, he will learn that he is pursued by both the British intelligence service and the OVRA.
Combining the Genres
The Second World War is a popular choice of topic for artists of all forms and genres. In writing, we usually have historical non-fiction, espionage, or drama stories. This book is a combined work of both drama and espionage which is something very few have really attempted to do and even fewer have succeeded. It is a book of war and love, hate and passion, and it might be the best Alan Furst book that we went over so far.
The last book that I have in this article for you is also the latest book by the author Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw. What makes it stand out among all of the other books in the series is the fact that its cast consists of people who hate both Stalin and Hitler equally. It is the story of liberals, waging their own war for freedom.
It is set in nineteen-thirty-seven, just before the dawn of the war. At the heart of the story is the new military attache of France, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier who is a medalled hero of the First World War. He must operate within the shadows of a fully blown-out spy war and separate friend from foe in a time when nobody could be trusted.
The thing I liked the most about the new Alan Furst book was the characters it included. My favorites are the Polish intelligence agent Colonel Anton Vyborg for whom the title dangerous is an underestimation and the love interest of our protagonist who serves as a lawyer for the League of Nations and is also of Polish blood. They are fully-fledged and interesting to the utmost degree.
Alan Furst should be considered one of the hallmarks of Second World War spy fiction. His works include both the personal aspect and the grand-scale operations of this clash of giants. He excels in combining the emotional worlds of his characters with the role they play as a part of their greater community; be it their nation, the side they support, or the ideals they are trying to uphold.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)