Random House, $27.00, 234 pages, ISBN 978-0-8129-9649-4
On September 1, 1939, German Armed Forces invaded Poland with tanks, armored infantry divisions and dive bombers. Great Britain and France declared war on Germany the next day and World War II began. Poland surrendered two weeks later. The German forces occupied Poland, loaded their weapons and combat troops onto railroads, and headed west, right at their traditional enemy, France . . . who had humiliated Adolf Hitler and all of Deutschland with the terms of surrender that ended World War I and bankrupted the German nation. The French, using some of the reparation moneys they’d extracted, built a series of fortifications called the Maginot Line along their common border, depending on it to repel another invasion from the east . . . as happened in 1914, at the start of World War I. In 1940, the German armies simply drove their tanks around the end of the line, crushing Belgium and Holland in the process, and invaded anyway; then proceeded to wreck the combined British and French armies. In June of 1940, the remnants of the British Expeditionary Forces were evacuating the continent in anything that could make it across the English Channel at a place called Dunkirk; the commander-in-chief of all the French armies, Marshal Petain, the hero of Verdun in the Great War, surrendered to Hitler himself, and created a pro-Nazi government at Vichy, in unoccupied southern France. At the same time, the victorious armies of Hitler’s Third Reich, enjoyed all the splendors of Paris and fortified the northern coastline, preparing to invade England. By the early Spring of 1941, the Nazis have tightened their grip on all of Europe, The Brits—with American Lend-Lease assistance—are bombing Germany, and as some French are resisting . . . others are collaborating.
A Hero of France, by Alan Furst, is his fourteenth volume of historical fiction with a focus on World War II. He’s the acknowledged master of WWII spy yarns, and this, his newest, does nothing to disabuse us of that notion.
March, 1941 Paris, The City of Lights, is in the hands of the Nazis and lighted no more. It’s dark, cold, under military control—blacked out at night—and being slowly plundered by the rapacious German appetite for French art treasures, luxury goods and natural resources. All loaded on trains and disappearing to the east, as are the Jews, who’re being disappeared at an alarming rate, to camps in Poland. A man named Mathieu is leading a small group of resistance fighters—rescuing British pilots and airmen who’ve been shot down over France—and escorting them to the southern French territory. From there, they can escape back to England and rejoin the bombing campaign, where they are desperately needed. The life expectancy of spies and resistance fighters, as well as their enablers, is usually measured in days and weeks behind enemy lines. As the German occupiers try to catch them, the resistance fighters resort to ever-more desperate measures, using the riskiest of methods to keep from being captured, tortured and killed. The tension ratchets up with each sentence and every page, as Mr. Furst skillfully, accurately and knowledgeably guides the reader through some of the most deadly . . . and actual exploits of the second World War. He’ll show you exactly why they’re called The Greatest Generation, at the same time he enthralls, entertains and educates everyone who reads his awe-inspiring work.