Friday, May 15, 2015

Cloak & Dagger #7

I read this for the 2015 Cloak and Dagger Mystery Reading Challenge

Red Gold – Alan Furst

This is the sequel to The World at Night, the historical espionage thriller that introduced film producer Jean-Claude Casson and his adventures in the French Resistance during WWII. Casson reaches a point where he can no longer sit out the Nazi occupation of France. For one, he is already a fugitive who escaped out of a toilet window of Gestapo headquarters in Paris. For another, he can no longer feel afraid. He doesn’t feel much of anything. He becomes more active in the Resistance not so much out of patriotism but out of a feeling that there is nothing left that he could do that could give his life meaning. I think the story and characterization are more economical and readable in this novel compared to The World at Night. Furst creates the same tense, murky, romantic atmosphere, but does not let ambiance take over like in The World at Night.

Casson has been recruited by a Gaullist officer DeGrave, under whom he served early in the war. This faction wants to fight the common enemy with the more organized and numerous Communists. They assign Casson to find the Communist leadership and find out what they need to make a deal. Casson eventually meets Weiss, Moscow Center’s rep and supervisor of a motley collection of teenagers, Jewish people in hiding, and thugs out to kill people who happen to be Germans because it’s fun. Weiss and his people set a price on cooperation - a thousand machine guns, with ammunition. Used to negotiating when getting movies made, Casson keeps his feet on the ground:

“We have a lot to offer, Casson. Help with field operations, intelligence -- but they have to ask. From the first contact we felt that no matter how hard we've fought against each other in the past, we now have a common enemy, so it's time for us to be allies.”

“War changes everything.”

Weiss smiled. “It should, logically it should. But the world doesn't run on logic, it runs on the seven deadly sins and the weather. Even so, we have to try to do what we can.”

“And it helps,’ Casson said, “to have machine guns.”

DeGrave introduces Casson to Helene, a Jewish woman who could be denounced at any time by a malicious co-worker. Casson also works to get Helene out of France. Handling this sub-plot, Frust captures the inescapable desolation – as Simenon called it, Dirty Snow -  of the occupation.

With his power to convey atmosphere and incidents, Furst can induce strong emotions in a reader. "I write entertainment novels," said Furst in a 2004 interview. "I write what I call novels of consolation for people who are bright and sophisticated.” I’m not sure what he meant by that, but he may be saying that a certain kind of reader would use the novel as moral yardstick, wondering what he or she would do in circumstances such as resisting an occupation by an enemy. I guess certain readers would console themselves that they would do the right thing, that it would be two-thirds of everybody else that would collaborate or watch an occupation from the sidelines.

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