Alan Furst is an international best-selling author of espionage fiction, but I’d never heard of him until three years ago, when a brief mention of his work appeared in “The Week” magazine. Now I’m a faithful fan, and plan to hear him speak Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library.
(And to do so, I’ll make the rare sacrifice of skipping a summer basketball game and a youth baseball game.)
Furst’s novels are set in Eastern Europe in the days leading up to World War II, which might not sound compelling, but he draws me in, book after book. I have all 10 of the loosely connected spy series — got the latest, “The Spies of Warsaw,” for Father’s Day — but rather than read them all at once, I’m spacing them out, a few months apart, so I always have a reading treat to look forward to.
Furst was in Seattle last week on this current road trip to support “Spies,” and told an audience of 90 that there are a million copies of his books in print, published in 17 languages, including Croatian, Flemish and Catalan.
Seattle Times Books Editor Mary Ann Gwynn called his books “textured, suspenseful and passionate, peopled by seductively appealing characters, most of whom are facing a terrible doom.”
He told the Seattle audience that “The Polish Officer” is “the best novel I’ll ever write.”
People wonder how he recreates the atmosphere and ambiance and geography of those old-world cities, many of which were destroyed in the war. He told them in Seattle:
“The way I work: I pick a country,” he said. “I learn the political history — I mean I really learn it; I read until it sinks in. Once I read the political history I can project and find the clandestine history. And then I people it with the characters.”
He calls his work “historical espionage,” and many compare him to Eric Amble, John LeCarre and Graham Greene. Sometimes characters reappear, with cameos, in later books. And the Brasserie Heiniger, a Paris restaurant, shows up every time.
I’m just finishing “Blood of Victory,” seventh of the series, and marked a couple of passages for rereading.
Russian emigre I.A. Serebin is living in Paris in 1940 and gets drawn into a plot to disrupt German oil shipments on the Danube River. He falls for a married woman sent to contact him about the plot, but — Casablanca-like — she must leave him to return to her work for the cause. And her husband.
“Marie-Galane had said a final good-bye on deck; reserved, steadfast, a farewell in time of war, tears forborne to preclude the memory of tears.”
A page later, Serebin is sent to Bucharest to gather information and installed in an apartment.
“He sat on the bed in his room, unfolding two new shirts, squashing them this way and that to get rid of the creases, which resulted in rumpled shirts with creases.”
The Thursday appearance is part of the Library Foundation’s “Talk of the Stacks” reading series exploring contemporary literature and culture.
Alan Furst, at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis, Pohlad Hall, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. It’s free with open seating. Programs begin at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.