August 9, 2006


Furst in His Class: : Alan Furst is a master of the historical spy novel. His latest work is The Foreign Correspondent, available now from Random House. TCS Daily's Josh Manchester recently caught up with Furst. (Josh Manchester, 09 Aug 2006, Tech Central Station)

Josh Manchcester: Are you an historical novelist who happens to write about espionage, or a spy novelist who confines himself to one period of history?

Alan Furst: My shorthand has always been 'historical espionage novel' -- a genre I went looking to read, in the early eighties, couldn't find, so decided to write. I thought surely the Russians had some great mid-thirties stuff, but they were busy being executed, and there's only Bulgakov's White Guard (a terrific novel, by the way) to see what the political adventure genre might have been had these people been permitted to write.

What I say about my own work, is that I write novels about the intelligence wars of the mid-thirties, a form of political adventure novel. See Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Malreaux, Man's Fate, Conrad, The Secret Agent -- yes, fancy literary names but don't kid yourself, it's just fine to read on a plane.

Manchester: How did you choose the 1930s and World War II Europe as your subject matter? When you started writing the Cold War was still going strong, yes?

Furst: Yes, but I always knew I could never be a cold war novelist -- LeCarre has that mean upper-class British cynical voice; it like, drips, which was perfect for the hall of mirrors and all that "was Petrov disguised as Laval? Or Laval disguised as Petrov?" stuff that characterized the Cold War.

For me, the thirties was an heroic period, good versus evil, and all the best will likely die. People in the mid-century were idealists, or victims, or fugitives, or heroes, or villains -- but you had to be something, you couldn't get out of the way, what was coming down was too big, you had to stand up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 9, 2006 12:59 PM

All three novels listed are great. Each in its way recalls the great Eric Ambler. Scour used bookstores for any of his novels, especially "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and "Journey into Fear."

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 9, 2006 1:13 PM

Furst is really good. He did an interview once about traveling to Eastern Europe in the '80s, and realizing that it really was an "evil empire."

Note that a number of his earliest novels are now out of print and rather valuable ($20-$60), even as typically-worn paperbacks. Seemingly any copy of his first novel, The Paris Drop, is worth $300+.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 9, 2006 1:32 PM

I started to read LeCarre's "The Tailor of Panama" several years ago, and had to stop after a few chapters because literally everything about his version of Panama was a lie (lived there, so I know whereof I speak). Turned me off the spy genre completely. Maybe I'll give Furst a chance...

Posted by: b at August 9, 2006 1:38 PM

He's so good it hurts.

There's a scene in one where a rich old Hungarian woman is visited by her nephew and her pack of Viszlas surround the visitor and try to lick him to death while she's purring about how they want nothing more than to go into glorious battle against boars and bears. My family owns Viszlas and that scene freakin' kills me everytime I think about it.

Jesus, I'm tearin' up right now.

Stupid Viszlas.

Posted by: Pepys at August 9, 2006 5:24 PM