Mission to Paris

Written by Alan Furst
Review by Waheed Rabbani

While this novel opens dramatically with a murder in Bulgaria, its settings change rapidly, and finally the protagonist appears on a ship bound for France. Stahl is a multilingual American born in Vienna, a successful Hollywood movie star who has played romantic roles, but as “the knight not the gigolo.” Although it’s 1938, Paramount is oblivious of European events. Having obtained Stahl from Warner Brothers in exchange for Gary Cooper, they have asked him to make a picture there.

While Stahl is excited about another role and about returning to Paris after some 18 years, the plot moves at the luxurious pace of the transatlantic liner. In Paris, he receives his entitled VIP treatment and enjoys the usual rounds of cocktail parties, dinners at fancy restaurants, and (bullet-hole mirrored) bistros. He indeed lives up to a suggestion that he recalls: “When you are in Paris, you have to make love to somebody.”

However, the novel picks up steam when Stahl receives a telephone call to see the Second Secretary at the American Embassy, is interviewed by Le Matin, and is invited by a Nazi propaganda group to dine at Maxim’s. The Americans do not exactly want him to spy, but to let them know if he were to “stumble on something.” The newspaper twists Stahl’s anti-war comments to make him sound like he was for French disarmament (and pro-German). While Stahl manages to damage-control those subtle remarks, he’s faced with a direct challenge posed by the Nazis, who want him to visit Berlin or face dire consequences.

This espionage thriller, written in the style of le Carré, is Furst’s 12th course in his moveable feast of novels set in Europe. Readers will enjoy it and likely look forward to the BBC mini-serialization of his earlier The Spies of Warsaw.