Wednesday, May 09, 2007

BOOK REVIEW - Night Soldiers

Night Soldiers
Alan Furst
Random House, 1988
462 pages

The year is 1934 and the Great Depression is wrecking havoc with the world. Only a year has passed since Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany and, even though the spectre of war is years away, the battle lines are already being drawn. In the town of Vidin on the banks of the Dunav, or Danube as it is called in the West, Khristo Stoianev is drawn into the struggle between the fascist states and Stalin's Russia. Of course when his younger brother, Nikko, is beat to death by the local fascist thugs, Khristo does not know that he is beginning a journey that will take him across Europe. From an NKVD training cadre in Moscow to shadowy operations amongst the chaos of the Spanish Civil War; from Paris to his penultimate rendezvous is a small church in the Romanian village of Sfintu Gheorghe where the Danube flows into the Black Sea.

Night Soldiers has everything I look for in a period spy novel. This novel is heavy on atmosphere and lite on the technical minutae, although there is enough to provide satisfaction for those of you who like that sort of thing, with just a dash of Stalin and a sprinkling of Parisian debauchery to spice things up. From the beginning sentence I found myself drawn into Khristo Stoianev's world and after a plot twist or two I was genuinely hoping for Stoianev to find his happy ending, an occurance which is far too rare in these sorts of books. I believe any fan of the genre or historical fiction in general will find this a worthy read and I highly recommend it. (I'm looking at you, Scott.)

Moving away from the book and on to something of a pet peeve of mine; Night Soldiers cost $13.95 for the trade paperback and tips the scales at a healthy 462 pages. For the same cover price I picked up Furst's second novel, Dark Star, which weighs in at 444 pages and then his third novel, The Polish Officer, which also cost me $13.95 and is the fly-weight of the crowd at a measly 287 pages. My very breif and unscientific survey of the other Furst novels at the store indicated that this trend toward the leaner novel continued. What's up with that? How is it that I am paying the same price for almost 200 fewer pages of entertainment?

Oh well, this will not slow me down in my attempt to read most of Furst's novels before his signing appearance on June 11th at Murder by the Book in Houston*. Actually I would not know anything about Alan Furst if it was not for their website and listing of author's doing signings in the near future. Murder by the Book is a dangerous place for me to go as I always spend about $50 in there and that is AFTER I prune my selections down to the things I just have to have right now. If you are ever in Houston and mysteries and thrillers are your thing, a trip there is definately worth your time.

* This may sound familiar to those of you who remember my speculation that I might try to be all caught up on Rankin's novels before the signing? Yeah, I read exactly no other Rankin novels between completing Knots & Crosses and his appearance.)

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