Alan Furst has made a literary career out of dwelling in Europe in the brief period shortly before and during World War II. He vividly imagines (and researches) what life must have been like for people under siege in one way or another, and what inspired ordinary citizens to become clandestine freedom fighters.
That fleeting window of time was one of unprecedented drama, the focus of the world’s attention. It’s the niche where his 14 best-selling historical espionage thrillers are set, in a series that began in 1989 and has since been translated into 17 languages.
The latest in Furst’s “Night Soldiers” series is “A Hero of France,” set in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941 (Random House, $27, 234 pages). The story unfolds as French Resistance leader Mathieu and the six fighters in his cell work an escape line that smuggles downed British aviators out of France and into Spain and, ultimately, back to England, where they resume their aerial war against the Nazis.
To accomplish such risky business – if you’re caught, you’re killed – the cell members must outsmart a cadre of “spies, collaborators, informers and blackmailers” as they evade the German military police. Finally fed up with the success of the escape lines operating out of Paris, the Third Reich sends a new menace to root out Mathieu and his co-patriots: the dreaded Gestapo.
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“My books aren’t thrillers, and they’re not spy novels; they’re sort of a mélange I worked out over time,” Furst said. “I’ve tried to create a fictional universe in Paris, where the same people keep popping up, disappearing and then reappearing. You had six intelligence services fighting each other in 12 countries. If you’re going to write a spy novel, what better time?”
“Furst delivers edgy eloquence and menace lurking everywhere in the night and fog,” wrote the New York Daily News. The Wall Street Journal calls “Hero” “suspenseful and sophisticated,” while the Boston Globe says Furst is “a grandmaster of the historical espionage genre.” And the Los Angeles Times said: “Furst’s books are like Chopin’s nocturnes: timeless, transcendent, universal. One does not so much read them as fall under their spell.”
During his career, Furst has been a college professor, a travel writer for national magazines, and a journalist for the International Herald Tribune. He and his wife live in Sag Harbor, N.Y. For more: www.alanfurst.net.
More A-list authors will appear this year for The Bee Book Club:
July 21: Ace Atkins took over the late Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” franchise; his fifth title is “Slow Burn.” Also, he writes the “Quinn Colson” series; the sixth title will be “The Innocents.”
Aug. 18: Jeffrey Toobin is a New Yorker magazine staff writer and author of “The People vs. O.J.” and “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.” His next book will be “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst.”
Oct. 29: T.C. Boyle, who founded the creative writing program at USC, has written 15 novels and 10 volumes of short stories. His next book will be “The Terranauts.”
Two new nonfiction titles offer disparate and fascinating characters, in different ways.
Autobiographically, “The View From the Cheap Seats” by Neil Gaiman is a 60-piece collection of the British writer’s takes on a variety of topics (William Morrow, $27, 544 pages). Gaiman describes it as “a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays. Some are serious, some are frivolous, and some I wrote to try to make people listen.”
The multi-award-winning Gaiman is known for his sci-fi and fantasy fiction (“The Sandman” series, “Coraline,” “Anansi Boys”). His 2013 novel “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is on my personal top 100 fiction titles.
As much as Gaiman is an artist with words, Diane Arbus (1923-71) transformed photography from “taking pictures” to a genuine art form in the 20th century. Her timeless portraits of “marginalized people” stand today as revealing and inspirational “photographic sculptures.”
In “Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer,” Arthur Lubow explores her life in fascinating detail, bringing her spirit, at least, to the pages of this definitive biography (Ecco, $25, 752 pages).
Details for Bee Book Club
Alan Furst will appear for The Bee Book Club at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, in The Hive at The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento. Parking is free.
Tickets to the event are $20 for seven-day-a-week subscribers, $30 for general admission. Buy tickets online at www.sacbee.com/beebookclub. Please bring your ticket to the event for entrance.
All proceeds benefit The Bee’s News In Education (NIE) program, bringing news and information to more than 20,000 students in the region.
Furst will give a presentation, answer questions and sign books. Barnes & Noble will be on site, selling “A Hero of France” for 30 percent off the list price (Random House, $27, 234 pages), as well as some of the author’s backlist and audiobooks at full price.
“A Hero of France” also will be offered for 30 percent off the list price through June 15 at these bookstores: in the Sacramento area at the four Barnes & Nobles, Avid Reader at the Tower, Underground Books, Time Tested Books and Sac State’s Hornet Bookstore; in Davis at Avid Reader and UC Davis Bookstore; in El Dorado Hills at Face in a Book; and in Grass Valley at The Bookseller.