"In 1939, as the armies of Europe mobilized for war, the British secret services undertook operations to impede the exportation of Roumanian oil to Germany. They failed."Then, in the autumn of 1940, they tried again."So begins Blood of Victory, a novel rich with suspense, historical insight, and the powerful narrative immediacy we have come to expect from bestselling author Alan Furst. The book takes its title from a speech given by a French senator at a conference on petroleum in 1918: "Oil," he said, "the blood of the earth, has become, in time of war, the blood of victory."November 1940. The Russian writer I. A. Serebin arrives in Istanbul by Black Sea freighter. Although he travels on behalf of an émigré organization based in Paris, he is in flight from a dying and corrupt Europe-specifically, from Nazi-occupied France. Serebin finds himself facing his fifth war, but this time he is an exile, a man without a country, and there is no army to join.
Critics who thought Furst's previous novel Kingdom of Shadows lacked a clearly linear plot will find much to praise him for in his toothsome new historical espionage thriller. The novel (named for the Romanian oil vital to the German war machine) describes a daring operation to disrupt the flow of that oil from the Ploesti fields in Romania to Germany by sinking a group of barges at a shallow point in the Danube in early 1941. The motley group attempting this maneuver barely holds together: its members include a sultry French aristocrat, hounded Russian Jews, even Serbian thugs. And while the tale features the same period details as its predecessor, and stretches from Istanbul to Bucharest with detours in Paris and London, it reaffirms the signature Slavic focus of the author's earlier books like Dark Star. This is literally personified in the novel's protagonist, the dogged Russian migr I.A. Serebin, who has to dodge every kind of secret police from the Gestapo to Stalin's NKVD (" `Why, Serge ' `Why not ' That was, Serebin thought, glib and ingenuous, but until a better two-word history of the USSR came along, it would do"). Diehard Furst fans will appreciate the recurrence of several secondary characters from Kingdom of Shadows (especially a certain heavyset Hungarian spymaster). But even newcomers will be ensnared by Furst's delicious recreations of a world sliding headlong into oblivion (wonderfully illustrated by Serebin having to drive a car off a cliff to escape with his life at the climax). Maps. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept. 3) Forecast: In a full-on campaign to make Furst a household name, Random House is reissuing his six earlier novels in trade paperback. Four are already out, and the last two (Dark Star and Night Soldiers) will be released at the same time as Blood of Victory. This, plus the attention Furst got for Kingdom of Shadows, could easily propel Blood of Victory onto bestseller lists. 5-city author tour. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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1 . Extremely Slow Moving
Posted May 05, 2009 by Barbara , San AntonioThe book was almost over before I figured out the point of the story. I guess the author was trying to build a plot, but he wandered around all over the place so much that it was almost impossible to keep interest. I have always loved spy stories, but this really doesn't even qualify. I bought several of his other books (before I read this one) , and I hope they are better.
July 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Blood of Victory by Alan Furst
On 24 November, 1940, the first light of dawn found the Bulgarian ore freighter Svistov pounding through the Black Sea swells, a long night's journey from Odessa and bound for Istanbul. The writer I. A. Serebin, sleepless as always, left his cabin and stood at the rail, searched the horizon for a sign of the Turkish coast, found only a blood red streak in the eastern sky. Like the old saying, he realized -- red sky at morning, sailor take warning. But, a private smile for that. So many ways, he thought, to drown in autumn. The Svistov creaked and groaned, spray burst over the bow as she fought the sea. With cupped hands, Serebin lit a Sobranie cigarette, then watched the dark water churning past the hull until the wind drove him back to the cabin.
* * *
As he pulled the door shut, a soft shape stirred beneath the blanket. "Ah, mon ours," she said. My bear. A muffled voice, tender, half asleep. "Are we there "
"No, not for a long time."
"Well then..." One side of the blanket rose in the air.
Serebin took off his shirt and trousers, then his glasses, slid in beside her and ran an idle finger down the length of her back, over the curve, and beyond. Smooth as silk, he thought, sleek as a seal. Bad poetry in bed, maybe, but she was, she was.
Marie-Galante. A fancy name. Nobility It wouldn't shock him if she were. Or not. A slumflower, perhaps. No matter, she was stunning, glamorous. Exceptionally plucked, buffed and smoothed. She had come to his cabin, sable coat and bare feet, as she'd promised at dinner. A glance, a low purr of a voice in lovely French, just enough, as her husband, a Vichy diplomat, worked at conversation with the Bulgarian captain and his first officer. So, no surprise, a few minutes after midnight: three taps, pearlescent fingernail on iron door and, when it opened, an eloquent Bonsoir.
Serebin stared when the coat came off. The cabin had only a kerosene lantern, hung on a hook in one corner, but the tiny flame was enough. Hair the color of almonds, skin a tone lighter, eyes a shade darker -- caramel. She acknowledged the stare with a smile -- yes, I am -- turned slowly once around for him, then, for a moment, posed. Serebin was a man who had love affairs, one followed another. It was his fate, he believed, that life smacked him in the head every chance it got, then paid him back in women. Even so, he couldn't stop looking at her. "It is," she'd said gently, "a little cold for this."
The engines hammered and strained, the overloaded steamship -- Ukrainian manganese for Turkish mills -- was slow as a snail. A good idea, they thought, lying on their sides, front to back, his hand on her breast, the sea rising and falling beneath them.