A Hero of France

Written by Alan Furst
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

German-occupied Paris, March 10th, 1941. The novel opens with Mathieu, head of a Resistance cell, and through his eyes we see the silent streets of Paris, buildings shuttered and dark under the blackout orders. Mathieu, it turns out, leads a cell which helps downed British airmen either down to Spain or up to the Channel and back to England. As time progresses, the Gestapo begin to tighten their surveillance around Mathieu’s operations, and the Resistance must employ students, nightclub owners, teachers, and aristocrats, who form the underground alliance against the German spies, collaborators, and informants.

Lovers of WWII France will savor the historical detail and atmospheric settings of Furst’s tight writing. The author pulls us into the many operations Mathieu and his fellow agent Chantal undertake, at times under the noses of the Gestapo, who patrol and punish resisters with brutal force. Furst writes with ample descriptive detail, but he weaves the background information into the action so that the reader does not find it overwhelming, yet is informed enough to engage with the next thrilling scene. He employs an anticlimactic ending, but one that is true to the way Resistance operations worked. Sometimes success is not a matter of win or lose, but instead a gray area in which satisfaction with the good is better than any possible perfection.