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Midnight in Europe: Book Review

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I've been a fan of Alan Furst ever since receiving a copy of The Foreign Correspondent as a birthday present from my son. I wrote a review in The Buddha Diaries and, checking back in the archives, I see that it was in August, 2007. I've read a couple more since then, and have enjoyed them.

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Now I've just finished reading his latest, Midnight in Europe -- another birthday gift. Furst is a master at recreating the scene in pre-World War II Europe. From bright cafés to sultry brothels and bleak hotel rooms, from rumbling trains to -- in this case -- rusty tubs fighting roaring seas, he creates a compelling world populated by diplomats and spies, dangerous enchantresses and jaded aristocrats, all on the make in one way or another, all engaged in the battle for survival in a world that is rapidly falling apart. War is at hand, inevitable. Every effort to forestall it, futile.

This time it's the Spanish civil war that rages to the south, while most of the action takes place in Paris and points east. Can the Republic be saved by its ragtag army of republicans and communists? Or will Franco prevail, abetted by the superior air power of his Nazi collaborators? We know the end of this story, of course, but in the meantime there's plenty of skullduggery to enjoy, as the clouds spread from Spain to cover the entire continent. The venom of National Socialism seeps everywhere; in Germany it's out there in the open; in other countries it spreads its poison less overtly, under cover of darkness and in secrecy...

Okay, I had a good time with this book, but I was disappointed by the ending. In part, because I knew how it would all turn out. But then, I know the end to all Furst's novels. I was, so to speak, there. I know the history. The Nazis achieve spectacular and frightening victories... provisionally; only to be creamed in the long run by the good guys. But I found it frustrating that this particular story ended not with a bang but a whimper--an anticlimax that undermined all the suspense that gripped the reader along the way Having feared at times for his life, I was saddened by the ultimate, inevitable failure of our Spanish hero to pull back his country from the brink. He had worked so hard and at such risk to save it.

And in the end, of course... well, I mustn't tell it, must I, and spoil other people's fun? But at least we all know already who won the Spanish civil war. Looking now to the Middle East, looking to Ukraine, looking out at the world at large and the ignorance, cruelty and violence of those who vie for power, can we help but wonder: who will win the next one?