Alan Furst's novels of pre-World War II Europe combine masterfully plotted spy stories with total sensual immersion: John Le Carré by way of Proust, with a streak of W.G. Sebald's elegiac musings on 20th-century history. His 14th novel, Spies of Warsaw (Random House), plunges us into the existential chaos of 1930s Europe. The plot contains lots of sinuous twists and turns, charismatic personalities, and volatile locations (Berlin, Paris, Warsaw). His characters live with menace and terror while maintaining the ability to, as the poet Andrew Marvell put it, "...tear our pleasures with rough strife, through the iron bars of life." During a long drive last fall, I listened to this novel; it kept me on the edge of my seat and in a mood of strong melancholy. I learned things about war and politics and how places like Warsaw and Paris (and the people in them) looked, felt, and even smelled. By the time I stopped for lunch, I had to foreswear Perkins' cup of chicken noodle soup and side salad for a piece of pumpkin pie slathered in whipped cream.
Thu., June 25, 7 p.m., 2009