****Midnight in Europe

Guernica, tapestry, Picasso

(photo: copyright by Ceridwen, creative commons license)*

By Alan Furst – A new Alan Furst book in my to-read stack is a temptation hard to resist. His ability to evoke the thickening clouds of dread gathering over Europe in the 1930s is unsurpassed, while we, with the benefit of hindsight, would like to reach into the story and propel the characters into different directions and decisions.

This thriller concerns efforts to get weapons to the anti-Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, a conflict that gave the Nazis a chance to flex their military muscle on the side of Francisco Franco. The war served as a grim prelude to World War II. This is the Spain of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and the short stories of Julian Zabalbeascoa, the most recent, “Gernika,” published in the fall 2015 Glimmer Train.

In Furst’s novel, a Spanish lawyer working in Paris agrees to help in the arms-buy arrangements, which isn’t easy, as several countries have embargoed munitions shipments to Spain, and spies are everywhere. A little romance, too. I particularly like how Furst takes ordinary people—by that I mean people whom readers can identify with, who don’t know all the secrets of arcane martial arts or who in college did not letter in six grueling sports, including sharpshooting, of course, or who aren’t alumni of elite undercover military units—and puts them in situations that test their wits and their nerve.

I’ve read all of Furst’s books and know how he works. Yet putting myself in his hands remains an absorbing and tension-filled ride through an ominous and bitter historical time.

*This tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s famous anti-war painting “Guernica,” created in response to the Spanish Civil War is interesting in itself. It is on display here in The Whitechapel Gallery, the only British venue to exhibit the painting in 1939. According to the gallery, “The original work is now too fragile to leave Madrid; this tapestry was loaned to the gallery, for its re-opening, by its owner Margaretta Rockefeller. Normally it hangs in the United Nations in New York where in 2003 it was controversially veiled prior to a speech by Colin Powell on the eve of the Iraq war.”