Blood of Victory

Although he resumed his American residence, novelist Alan Furst lived for many years in Europe, particularly France. His best novels have also been set on the Continent, although not the chic realm of autobahns and the euro. Instead, he has explored the shady, shadowy years of desperation and betrayal preceding and following the beginning of World War II.

Blood of Victory returns to this milieu, and follows the efforts of Russian emigre writer Ilya Serebin to thwart Nazi access to Romania’s precious oil—the “blood” of the book’s title. Serebin has been recruited (or more accurately, seduced) by a beautiful Frenchwoman into working for Hungarian spy Janos Polanyi, who appeared in Furst’s previous novel, Kingdom of Shadows (2001). The job that Serebin and his lover have taken on involves sounding out a host of louche characters who were once part of a commercial spy ring. They may do a bit to help the allied cause, or they may choose to maintain what momentary safety they have, or they may turn in their would-be recruiters to the authorities.

Furst is routinely compared to such classic masters of intrigue as Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, but his style is his own—suave, elusive, demanding the reader’s full attention. Occupied Paris, anxious Istanbul, and the compromised Romanian capital of Bucharest have seldom been evoked so atmospherically. Fans of Greene and Ambler may feel that Furst romanticizes the love lives of his characters, but reading him is the next best thing to rejoining Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.