No other writer of historical espionage fiction is as capable of capturing the sights sounds, and tensions of the time as Alan Furst. Not only does he saturate the reader in the fine details, but his characters always resonate – even when they are distinct archetypes – and his plots are always complex and rollicking. A Hero in France – published as a Hero of France elsewhere – is no different. It’s not quite peerless Furst – veteran readers will likely point towards Midnight in Europe or Mission to Paris as their favourites (or maybe that’s just personal bias…) but it’s a fine example of what the author is capable of. And thankfully, if you enjoy this one, you’ve got thirteen other World War II Europe-based suspense novels to discover. Lucky, lucky you.
Mathieu is the leader of a French Resistance cell in Nazi-infested Paris. Mathieu is not his real name, but in this time of war, his true identity is irrelevant. Set in a key period during the war – when Britain had stepped up its bombing campaign, and just prior to Hitler invading the Soviet Union – the book’s plot follows several of Mathieu exploits. From concealing downed British pilots and smuggling them home, to the nitty-gritty of being a resistance leader and securing funds and garnering allies, Furst portrays the difficulties of Mathieu’s wartime mission with aplomb. He does this by highlighting the scarcity of items we take for granted, and letting his characters truly luxuriate with them when the opportunity arises. And it’s these moments that truly elevate A Hero in France. While other writers can match Furst in the suspense stakes, few are as capable of humanising their characters.
The novel possesses a sombre tone – appropriately so, too – but its characters never wallow. A Hero in France is a novel about heroes, and presents courageous men and women doing their utmost to protect and defend the principles they believe in. While its concluding pages are a tad trite – plot threads tie together a little too neatly, which momentarily suspends its authenticity – readers looking for a short, impactful burst of World War II escapades should look no further.