Third Tuesday of the month, 5:00 p.m., in the homes of its members. Co-Chairmen Jack Cobau (313-885-1650) and David Morrow (313-640-9756). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of our current book list. All SMC members are welcome to join our discussion, whether or not you have read the book.
A Hero of France, by Alan Furst
Alan Furst, born in New York in 1941, has been writing novels since 1976. His early books did not sell, and he made a living by writing for various magazines. In 1983, he traveled to Eastern Europe to write a travel piece, and intrigued by the atmosphere, started a spy novel about the death of Europe. Night Soldiers, set in Bulgaria, Spain, and Paris in the mid-1930’s was published in 1988 and was a success. The historical spy story became the template for his next 13 novels, of which A Hero of France is the most recent. The books do not share a hero, but many of the characters and locations reappear. Many of the books have been best sellers and have received critical acclaim. Furst has been called “an heir to the tradition of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene.” One of the books was made into a TV mini-series.
The hero of the A Hero of France is a former French tank commander with the code name Mathieu. After the Germans occupy Paris in 1940, he finds himself defacing propaganda posters, but within a few months moves to form an active resistance cell. The cell was a diverse collection of Parisians, including a teenage girl who delivered messages by bicycle, a nightclub owner who entertained German officers while helping Mathieu obtain funds and hide fugitives, and an aristocratic woman who accompanied Mathieu on missions and helped obtain travel documents. Others included a bistro owner who relayed messages, a senior ethnographer at the Sorbonne who served as Mathieu’s second in command, and various others who risked their lives to break the grip of the Occupation.
One of the first missions described in A Hero of France was the rescue of a British airman and his delivery to passeurs who would lead him through Vichy France for his evacuation through Spain. Some of the Readers had feelings of déjà vu, having just read similar stories in Kristan Hannah’s The Nightingale.
Mathieu, like most other spy novel heroes, has a love interest, who lives in the same hotel, but he refuses to involve her in his work. Their scenes are sometimes R-rated.
One of Furst’s strengths is his ability to evoke the pre-war atmosphere of Eastern Europe in his earlier books and that of occupied France in this one. The desperation of the Parisians as they dealt with long ration lines, blackouts, Allied bombings and the heel of the Gestapo reduced the city to a dark shadow of its former glory. As the war continued and Allied victories started to turn the tide, more French were willing to join the Resistance, but increased crackdowns by the Gestapo made the work more dangerous than ever. The chance that someone you trusted might be an informant, or that someone who noticed your activities might threaten to denounce you unless you paid them off was always a risk, as Mathieu would find out. Mathieu would also have to decide whether accepting money from the British was worth giving up some control of his cell.
The author did distinguish between the tactics used by Vichy French officials, the regular German Army officers, and the dreaded Gestapo. An example was a very thorough police inspector from Hamburg brought to Paris because of his French language skills. When his careful placement of an agent into Mathieu’s cell proved unsuccessful, he was sent back to Hamburg and the Gestapo took over.
Despite generally favorable reviews in the press, the Readers were not impressed with A Hero of France, Those of us who were familiar with earlier books in the Night Soldiers series felt that this outing was not up to the standards set by a younger Alan Furst.
Join us on June 19th at 5 pm for our discussion of Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. We will meet at the home of Jack Cobau at 830 Fairford Rd., Grosse Pointe Woods. RSVP to (313) 881-1467.
Grosse Pointe Senior Men’s Club Readers 2018 Book List
Have questions or need directions or copies of the books? Call either:
David Morrow: 313-640-9756 or Jack Cobau: 313-885-1650