"In the world of the espionage thriller, Alan Furst is in a class of his own."--William Boyd Paris. Autumn, 1941. In a shabby hotel off the place Clichy, the course of the French resistance is about to change. German tanks are rolling toward Moscow. Stalin has issued a decree: all partisan operatives are to strike behind enemy lines--from Kiev to Brittany. Set in the back streets of Paris and deep in occupied France, Red Gold moves with quiet and pervasive menace as predators from the dark edge of the war--arms dealers, lawyers, spies, and assassins--emerge from the shadows of the Parisian underworld. In their midst is Jean Casson, once a producer of gangster films, now living on a few francs a day and hunted by the Gestapo. As the German occupation tightens, Casson is drawn into an ill-fated mission: running guns to combat units of the French Communist party. Their NKVD contact, a former Comintern operative named Weiss--his seventeenth name--begins to orchestrate a series of attacks against the Germans. Reprisals are brutal. Fear spreads through the city. At last the real resistance has begun. Red Gold masterfully recreates the duplicitous world of the French resistance in the worst days of World War II. From the Hardcover edition.
From the atmosphere established in his fifth novel's first sentence ("Casson woke in a room in a cheap hotel and smoked his last cigarette") to the knock on the door at the denouement, Furst again proves himself the master of his chosen terrain?behind the lines of Nazi occupation in France during WWII. His previous novel, The World at Night, opened in May 1940, with French film producer Jean Casson setting out to take newsreels of the defense of France's Maginot line and becoming swamped in the German invasion. It is now September 1941, and Casson, broke and hiding under a false name, is about to commit fully to the Resistance. As a man of indeterminate political affiliation, he's chosen to negotiate between the Resistance and the French Communists, who, with the German army on the verge of taking Moscow, have orders from Stalin to sabotage the Nazis in any way possible. The "red gold" SS looters try to steal in Russia is a metaphoric payment in blood, while in Paris informers are everywhere and collaboration is still rampant. Furst's textured plot?exhibiting shifting loyalties and betrayals; lone, often hopeless acts of heroism; and lovers bravely parting?makes for spellbinding drama. (In one scene, a clandestine radio operator broadcasts a few moments too long, and hears soldiers' boots racing up the stairs to get him.) Furst, who deserves the comparisons he's earned to Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, seems to be settling into a franchise here, rather than reaching for the fire he caught in his third novel, The Polish Officer. Casson's story unfolds convincingly, however, and as it continues here to April of 1942, promises a few more episodes to come from this author's tried and true brand of masterfully detailed espionage -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 07, 2002
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Excerpt from Red Gold by Alan Furst
Casson woke in a room in a cheap hotel and smoked his last cigarette. The window by the bed was open and the shade, yellow and faded, bumped gently against the sill in the morning breeze. When it moved he could see fierce blue sky, a bar of sunlight on the lead sheeting of the roof across the courtyard. Something in the air, he thought, a ghost of something, and the sky was lit a certain way. So then, autumn.
A knock at the door; a woman came in and sat on the edge of the bed. She had a room down the hall and came to see him sometimes. He offered her the cigarette, she inhaled and gave it back. "Thank you," she said. She stood up, pulled her slip over her head and hung it on a nail in the wall, then climbed in next to him. "Tell me," she said, "what is it you see out there?"
"Sky. Nothing much."
She pulled the blanket up so it covered their shoulders. "You live in a dream," she said.
"You think it's wrong?"
He felt her shrug. "I don't know--why bother?"
She settled next to him, so the tips of her breasts brushed the skin of his back, ran a finger down the line of hair from his chest to his stomach, and slid her hand between his legs. He stubbed the cigarette out carefully in a saucer he kept on the windowsill, then closed his eyes. For a time he stayed like that, adrift.
"Well," he said, "maybe you're right."
He turned to face her, she rested a knee on his hip, opening her legs. After a moment she said, "Your hands are always warm."
"Warm hands, cold heart."
She laughed, then kissed him. "Not you," she said. He could smell wine on her breath.
His mind wandered. It was very quiet, all he could hear was her breathing, long and slow, and the yellow shade, bumping against the sill in the morning air.
Place Clichy. He sat at an outside table at a cafe and sipped the roast barley infusion the waiter brought him. Coffee, he thought, remembering it. Very expensive now, he didn't have the money. He stared out at the square, Clichy a little lost in the daylight, the cheap hotels and dance halls gray and crooked in the morning sun, but Casson didn't mind. He liked it--in the same way he liked deserted movie sets and winter beaches.
On the chair next to him somebody had left a damp copy of yesterday's Le Soir. He spread it out on the table.
. . . the low hills of Lokhvitsa, brooding at nightfall, the steep banks of the river Dnieper, the grumble of distant cannonade. Suddenly, white Very lights fired from flare pistols, sputtering as they float to earth. A signal! Guderian's Third Panzer has linked up with Kleist's Sixteenth Panzer! The Kiev pocket has snapped shut like a trap: 300,000 Russian casualties, 600,000 taken prisoner, five Soviet armies obliterated. Now, Kiev must fall within hours. Victorious Wehrmacht columns burst into song as they prepare to march into the defeated city.
Casson shook his head--who writes this shit? His eyes wandered to the top of the column. Oh, from their foreign correspondent, Georges Broux. Well, that explained it. Once upon a time, when he'd been Jean Casson, producer of gangster films, with an office near the Champs-Elysees, Georges Broux had sent him a screenplay. Morning Must Come, something like that. Maybe it was Dawn that had to come, or A New Day, but that was the general idea. La Belle France brought to her knees by decadence and socialism. "Dear Georges, thanks for letting us have a look; unfortunately . . ." And did, Casson wondered, the Wehrmacht actually burst into songs Maybe it did.
He searched in his pocket until he found the cigarette stub and lit it, sipped his barley coffee, turned to the movie page. Playing at the Imperiale, over on the Champs-Elysees, was Premier Rendezvous--first date--with Danielle Darrieux and Louis Jourdan. If you'd seen that, the Gaumont had "a frothy romantic comedy." Or, if you were really hard to please, you could go out to Neuilly for "a little jewel, bubbling over with mirth! A sly French wink!" Casson read through the listings for the smaller theatres, sometimes they ran revivals and his old films showed up. No Way Out or The Devil's Bridge. Maybe, even, Night Run.