As a Hungarian officer in the first world war, Nicholas Morath was a hero, a miser with his men. With Hitler pushing and dragging the world into the second conflagration, Morath is in Paris, an expatriate businessman, the proprietor of an advertising agency of all things, and a spy. He’s been recruited by his uncle, a flamboyant aging Count who adores good food, good drink and lush women and whose network includes those who work in the light and those who hover in the shadows, ready to leap when the advantage is theirs.
Anxious to keep Hungary out of the incipient war, the Count sends Morath on a series of missions, telling him only as much as he needs to know – and often not that –and leaving the reader to tease out the facts from the mist of confusion and paranoia that is prewar Europe.
Kingdom of Shadows is a wonderful read, rich in atmosphere and history. There’s the bartender who is Boris “now and then” and who drinks like a Russian – with grace, and then all gone. There are people desperate for passports and living on the edge of sanity and starvation and hopelessness. And there are places – Ruthenia and Sudetenland – that never graced the pages of my history books but were vital ingredients in the powder keg that would become WWII.
The writing is spare and subtle; you are meant to pay attention. Everything is important. People disappear and reappear, and no one quite knows what’s coming although they all expect the worst. Like Morath, you keep looking over your shoulder, because there is danger all around.
Alan Furst’s noir spy novels have been translated into eighteen languages. In 2011 he was awarded the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, a literary prize for a body of work.