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reading World War II

Alan Furst's mystery novels are must-reads for anyone who is interested in World War II.

A few of his minor characters reappear in subsequent novels (like the owner of the Brasserie Heininger in Paris), but the main character is not a lovable or crabby detective: it's the war itself. He moves around Europe in the series, from the Balkans to Belgium. His main characters tend to be somewhat ordinary people who didn't expect to find themselves in these situations. By focusing a microscope on one person's involvement--whether as a refugee or a businessman or a member of the resistance--he illuminates the entire era.

My favorite is "The Foreign Correspondent." But he's written a dozen or more, so you aren't going to run out of reading material quickly. The series does not have to be read in any particular order. Each book contains a map of the locations covered.

If you know a lot about this era, you'll enjoy Furst's dramatization of events (he does meticulous research). If you don't know a lot about WWII but non-fiction puts you to sleep, this is a painless way to understand the dynamics and dramas that unfolded in Europe during that time.

Posted by
148 posts

I've started one of his books and have a couple of others, and MAN, you have to pay attention, it's not what I call brain candy at all... the part I did read was definitely good, maybe I'll pick it up and finish it!

Posted by
4149 posts

He's a superb writer though his later books show some tapering off (like Tony Hillerman and doubtless many successful writers late in their careers). He has another one coming this fall, I hope it's better. My favorite is probably his first, "Night Soldiers," which takes the protagonist from the early 1930s in Bulgaria to elsewhere (I won't spoil it) at the war's end. I believe all the novels have episodes in Paris, and specifically at the Brasserie Heininger in the Marais. A lot of the characters cycle through different novels. They're spies, not detectives, though some work in and with the police. They find themselves caught up in the prelude or the war itself, recruited into intelligence work and dangerous missions.

I can't recommend Furst highly enough.

Posted by
4845 posts

Mysteries are a good way to learn something about people and places without the stories being colored by the romance and heroics. I recommend the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr. Gunther is a Berlin police detective caught up in and after the war. Not being a party member, he has to deal with enemies on all sides. The books include a lot of real-life Nazi figures and gives a different perspective on life in Germany and certain events in those times.

Posted by
570 posts

“The Polish Officer” was my introduction to his work. Each of his books offers a different perspective on the war, and is infused with the palpable tension of the time.

Alan Furst’s next novel “Under Occupation” will be released at the end of November.

Posted by
4149 posts

A couple of Furst's novels were combined in a movie, Spies of Warsaw, starring David Tennant. It's not the best movie I ever saw but it gives you an idea what his stories are like.