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Friday, June 10, 2016

A Hero of France by Alan Furst

Random House, 256 pages, $27

Alan Furst has style. He doesn’t waste words, but he does provide a “You Are There” feeling through the details in his books, almost all of which have been set in and around World War II. He doesn’t belabor his characters’ backgrounds, the politics of the time, or the psychology of good versus bad. He gets on with it and tells a good story rife with the essence of the finer human traits: kindness, generosity, courage, and self-sacrifice.

As with most of Furst’s books, “A Hero of France” is a standalone. There are many heroes, but the main heroic character is a French Resistance member named Mathieu, a nom de guerre. Mathieu operates in Paris with other brave souls in his cell to infiltrate agents from Britain and help others escape from Vichy France. Running the escape lines is especially perilous because often the people are downed British airmen who can’t speak French. Mathieu and his colleagues are clever and find connections to local people, who surprise themselves with their bravery by supplying peripheral help to the cell.

After an interesting and lengthy introduction, the main stories emerge. Provocateurs must enter Paris to set off bombs to disrupt the German/Vichy machine, and a Polish pilot flying for Britain has come down in occupied France and must be spirited out of the country. It is Mathieu and his team who must solve both problems.

Furst throws in a German police detective, Senior Inspector Otto Broehm, who has been sent to Paris to find and break the Resistance’s escape lines. Broehm recruits someone he believes can infiltrate the movement, and the race is on.

There is no whodunnit in “A Hero of France.” It is an open-faced war story that manages to be a nail-biting spy novel as well. It should be obvious that I am an Alan Furst fan, and this book did not disappoint.

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