The Spies at Warsaw

Written by Alan Furst
Review by Mark F. Johnson

In the autumn of 1937, Warsaw was still a city at peace, although wary eyes looked to the West with anxiety. Germany was firmly under the control of the Nazis, and rumors of war flew by like so many bullets and shells, which would follow them in two short years. The peacetime spy game being played out in all cities in Europe still maintained the façade of civility, many of the spies belonging to the various diplomatic corps. Information was gleaned at endless soirees and in many cases. Smack in the middle of it all was Colonel Jean-François Mercier de Boutillon, military attaché to the French embassy in Warsaw. Between the fall of 1937 and the early summer of 1938, the Colonel would come to realize that not only was war with Germany inevitable for the Poles, it would involve France as well. And he knew France was not prepared.

Once again, Furst brings us into the exciting and terrifying world of espionage in pre-World War II Europe. He is a master at setting scenes and developing characters who are believable and real to the extent that it’s possible simultaneously to like them, hate them, and not care one way or the other. His scenes are filled with smoke that burns your eyes, raucous laughter that rings in your ears, and cold, dead silence that chills you to the bone. His now-famous Brasserie Heininger, with its trademark bullet hole in the mirror behind table fourteen, is as real to me as any place I’ve ever been. I remember being there with the characters in his last book, The Foreign Correspondent. I hope to visit there again soon.