BOOK REVIEW: Under Occupation

Under Occupation by Alan Furst (WWII Spy Novel, 2019).

I haven’t previously read Mr. Furst, but he’s a leading figure in the historical espionage genre. The people of 1942 Paris are under the thumb of the Nazis. Some locals collaborate with these ruthless invaders, others actively resist, while most people just try to stay out of trouble and survive.

Till now, novelist Paul Ricard has mostly been of that third group. He certainly doesn’t like having an occupying force running things, but he’s mostly carried on with life as close to ‘normal’ as possible. As a man whose career involves writing spy-oriented novels, he’s in a doubly peculiar position–but still, he doesn’t envision himself a hero.

Then, as he walks down then street one day, he sees a man fleeing the authorities. The man has been shot, he falls and Paul rushes over to him. The dying man thrusts a document into Paul’s pocket and, from that moment on, the author finds himself enmeshed in all-too-real and deadly cloak and dagger stuff.

Furst does a fine job portraying the day-to-day life of people in occupied Paris and other areas where Paul’s ever-deepening involvement in the Resistance leads him. This includes harrowing journeys to Germany itself, then to other parts of France. That first document leads to ever-more-complex and risky missions for himself and the cells of spies he finds himself partnered with.

Under Occupation is a fast-paced but not slapdash adventure, a genuinely suspenseful throughout. The protagonist feels real, with his fears and uncertainties, along with his determination to do the best he can with what he’s got. And the book in itself is a very solid and often thrilling example of espionage fiction.

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