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Blog Tour Review: The Spies of Warsaw, Alan Furst

From the back cover:

War is coming to Europe.  French and German intelligence operatives are locked in a life-and-death struggle on the espionage battlefield.  At the French embassy in Warsaw, the new military attache, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated hero of the 1914 war, is drawn into a world of abduction, betrayal, and intrigue in the diplomatic salons and back alleys of the city.  At the same time, the handsome aristocrat finds himself in a passionate love affair with a Parisian woman of Polish heritage, a lawyer for the League of Nations.  Risking his life, Colonel Mercier must work in the shadows amid an extraordinary cast of venal characters, some known to Mercier as spies, some never to be revealed.

This may be my very first spy novel, and I liked it!  Mercier’s activities are unquestionably risky and exciting, as are those of the people with whom he associates.  He operates within a dense network of spies and governmental operatives and the book really feels very pre-World War II.  Everyone is on edge, sure that war is coming but not when or where.  It’s Mercier’s job to figure these things out by employing both paid spies and by risking his own life investigating in Germany.

The novel opens with a man named Edvard Uhl, who was led into spying through his mistress since he could not bear to give her up.  It becomes clear very early on that he’s not the main focus and he’s put to the side eventually through a particularly exciting scene.  Mercier takes over and provides the backbone for the rest of the novel.  He is torn between a private life and his goal of saving France; as expected, the book has plenty of political discussions and political dinners, but these are neatly counterbalanced by action scenes and the budding romance between Mercier and the Polish lawyer Anna.

Despite its fairly short length, this is not the quickest read.  It’s a bit of a dense trawl through the political discussions at times and a healthy knowledge of the events leading up to World War II would be helpful.  I don’t have that knowledge and the book didn’t lose me, but I suspect it would have enhanced my appreciation of the author’s work.  As it was, I definitely enjoyed the book, but had a marked preference for the scenes where more actually happened rather than the dinners and meetings where the characters sat around and talked.

The Spies of Warsaw is an engaging, interesting book with moments of excitement and passion amidst the tense lead-up to war.  I think that this would be an excellent read for anyone who enjoys watching James Bond or has an interest in World War II.  If that’s you, you’re in luck, because I have one copy to give away!  Just enter by leaving a comment on this review by August 6th.  US and Canada only unfortunately, I’m sending this one out myself. The winner of this book is Amanda.

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