Midnight in Europe
The year is 1937. Spain is embroiled in a civil war as Generalissimo Franco gains arms support from Hitler and Mussolini. The Spanish Resistance needs weapons to fight off the Fascists. Meanwhile, Hitler’s Third Reich has annexed Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia on its Southeastern border. German planes fly sorties over Poland and western France. Will Warsaw, even Paris, be next? A shadow of fear hovers over all of Europe.
Cristián Ferrar, a Spanish-born partner in an international law firm based in Paris and New York, is approached by an unlikely group of Spanish loyalists seeking help to acquire arms for the Resistance. His patriotism leads him to hear them out, but his law partners caution that the interests of the firm are more important than an ideological war in Spain, a country with few allegiances to the firm’s clients. He cautiously offers what little time and aid he can in what seems like a hopeless cause.
"The nail-biting climax will rob you of a night’s sleep.... [Furst] is a master of spinning spell-binding and atmospheric portrayals of the individuals caught up in the drumbeat of approaching chaos in Europe."
Reluctantly, Ferrar is pulled into a dangerous plot to procure arms from the Resistance fighters’ only ally: Russia. Joseph Stalin, wary of Hitler’s expansionist actions, is amassing a huge supply of weaponry and is the only available source of armaments. The Soviets are unwilling to sell a single bullet at any price to someone else’s war, let alone anti-tank canons and munitions. The only solution is to steal the weapons from a plant near Moscow and get them to Spain.
Ferrar finds himself meeting with war-toughened men and women of every layer of society, from assassins and thieves to the aristocracy. They stealthily meet in palaces, Istanbul brothels, smoky bistros, peasant kitchens and rail yards to lay out a plan to get a trainload of arms from Moscow overland to Odessa, then by ship through the Black Sea to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to Valencia. The nail-biting climax will rob you of a night’s sleep.
Alan Furst adds this, the 13th novel in his thought-provoking and historically accurate series of spy thrillers based on actual events leading up to World War II. He is a master of spinning spell-binding and atmospheric portrayals of the individuals caught up in the drumbeat of approaching chaos in Europe.
MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE is as topical as today’s headlines, bringing to mind the axiom “He who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.” Today’s decisions on whether or not to become involved in a conflict are as perilous as they were in the late 1930s before world powers were pulled into a World War. America took an isolationist stand, even when England and France, its closest allies, were invaded. Not until Pearl Harbor was attacked did we act in self-defense. Which side do we take, and how deeply do we get involved? History holds a message, but how do we interpret it?
Today, Ukraine is on the verge of all-out civil war as Russia appears to be threatening to retake the independent nations formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Syria, Egypt and Libya are in chaos, and Thailand, Liberia and Turkey are home to growing civil unrest. Meanwhile, the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are almost yesterday’s news. As we pull troops out of the Middle East, we offer arms and military support to the NATO nations in Europe. The differences to pre-World War II Europe lie in the geography, ideology and shifting alliances. One could make an argument either way. Do we stay out unless we are attacked on our soil, or do we charge to the rescue? It is the conundrum of the ages.
Another axiom comes to mind: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Reviewed by Roz Shea on June 6, 2014