DELIVERING THE GOODS. SOMETHING NOVELIST ALAN FURST DOES! Don't you just HATE NOVELISTS who ignore readers' needs, who instead take the cheap shot, wooing critics? They write over our heads ---they're trying for artsy fartsy medals! Worst is when these lamebrains combine what they think is stylish florid GUSH with any abstract style so you get lost all the time, going huh? What is happening? Those are the books I hurl across the room, glad that I have boxes of new arrivals nearby.
There's another kind of writer I hate. They get this great plot going but write like they were writing for true confessions mags. Robert LUDLUM is whom I refer to. Rarely is the Ludum action going to entirely make up for his pedestrian, sweaty, sexist, pulp fiction, crawly-critter mode of writing. These spy guys are the male DANIELLE STEEL's. As is Sidney Sheldon. Except for his one good one, the OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT. After that, he got tits. And another transexual is Mary Higgins Clark. Just one look at the author photo on the back. She's wearing a red and black printed suit that you wouldn't use on an arm chair. WEB GRIFFIN has a stock photo of himself smoking a big cigar tilted upwards with this smug ass right wing expression on his Richard Attenbourough type passable face. Ludlum always has a trench coat on and there he is glaring out at you. When I see an author in a trench, I put the book down immediately. He's too full of himself to understand the big plots.
I'm searching for story tellers who keep the READER's THIRD EYE SEEING what is really going on, -- where stories move at a clip and unexpected turns-of-event occur, (to me that's the real art, story-mapping.) I want realistic characters of the sort we've never personally known and now we realize there was a lack in our lives. They're God's hidden heroes. That's the most important thing and you present them and their quandry, their resultant Odyssey and just keep the florid psychdelic wallpaper out of it. I love writers who avoid any elitist, inner circle tactics, whether multi-syllablic & inscrutable. They are the mumblers of their profession. The Brandos, The Method writers. BORRRING. They provoke a major yawn in real book audience people. Rescue us from that style of writing where novelist is wearing his so-called Soho smarts on his lapel. I appreciate writers who did their story mapping first, know the freight train events by heart, so that he can get down to the business of those intuitive 'flint strikes' where the writer hits pay dirt, SPARKS FLY, the guy intuits exactly what his character would think and say and the dialogue is revelatory and unique. All kinds of unplanned business shows up when you've got the event-train cars all hitched together running smoothly on the tracks. AND ALAN FURST DOES THAT in a dozen and a half great novels: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/f/alan-furst/
FURST covers SERIOUS ISSUES, no matter that they're sixty years ago, these are VIVID WWII SETTINGS. His Paris is amazing. He has a TIME MACHINE. I just finished the invasion of Paris in spring 1940. "WORLD AT NIGHT" and then ran out and got "DARK STAR" which starts when Hitler had just entered Czechoslovakia and then it goes 400 pages to Kristallnacht . Both have this Selig guy who's at every big event when it happens. Exactly at that intersection. Only he's not funny like Woody Allen in Selig. He's very aware, terrified, in danger, very heroic and usually in love with some fabulous Bohemian Redhead from Paris or Poland who has this rich man keeping her. That's my kind of NOVEL! A political thriller romance, espionage drama. WOW! Read what this literate Fan has to say:
Furst is a novelist who knows the epoch and millieu well and that translates to a book that IS that city in this case, IS PARIS and reading it, we smell the chestnuts in bloom, too, the exact brand of sooty French Gauloise they're smoking and coffee they're swilling. We know that exact kind of alley in Paris, so urine soaked and dark that a Nazi won't follow the hero down it.. Furst PUTS US there.
I like writers who create stories that are intelligent and easy to follow.and have OTHER THINGS to recommend them than resorting to being artsy. What's important is compelling unique characters, a majestic setting brought to life and then a super story that catches us offguard with unique period, theme, clarity and relevance. And oh yes, CAPACITY TO ENGROSS AND ENTERTAIN!
Alan Furst does all the above. In "WORLD AT NIGHT", he more than hits his bases related to re-creating the planet's best city ever, GAY PAREE May 4th 1940 as the NAZIS drive up. A half million of them. Every corner of Paris is described so you think you're INSIDE of a cable travel show, only it's PARIS seventy years ago going through (sigh,) another German interruption. Furst manages to put history data in it so glibly, how the Germans were like a bad neighbor who kept coming over the fence, into your home and eating all your food, every twenty years. For all of modern history, 1870 and 1898 and 1914 when they were stopped one hour out of the capital by the Americans and Brits. .. You're transported there. I now finally know two things, not just what it's like to be occupied by the Nazis but to be French and have it happen. Furst is a time machine with a psych degree. Only he's written a SPY NOVEL What more can I say? Well, the plot. Just a tad, just the premise, I won't ruin it for you.
The Hero, Jean Casson, is your average upscale Parisian man, a film producer who recognizes writing talent and hires it, in the person of the oddest Jew we ever saw. When his Jewish writer talks film plots, that in itself is a lesson in movie making. Casson works hard at film, and off the job dutifully attends parties at his ex's. She 's the classic venal French gal with her new BF, the Luxury Car salesman. HILARIOUS.
The scene that takes all is when a very polite Nazi interviews him knowing full well he's up to something. The threats that come thru the polite language terrify.
Cassson is an ordinary man, a nice man. He deserves to have it good, he sleeps with his regular line up who are all interesting,worthy women, some shopgirls, some older and married. He has a full life. He certainly did not plan on, and does not want to --become a spy for the British. That just wasn't on his list but a few weeks into the occupation, he really doesn't want to face years of this German business. The boche they call them (slang for cabbage or jughead). And the readers see how awful the Nazis were and how dangerous the occupation was. We Americans HAVE NO IDEA, ok? The ration tickets only give you 3 oz of rice a month and some margarine. Germans took everybody's cars, German tourists were everywhere rubbernecking in YOUR CARS, Jews were being caught and shipped out and then all the quislings, the French who worked for Germany happily..It was SCARY AWFUL.
IN DARK STAR, the hero is a Soviet Journalist who adores Paris. KGB runs him as a spy, but during the course of the novel he works for the British too. A man with his own, inner compass.
FURST has good taste in picking milleiu. Read his interviews. He shares all his tricks.You'll come away from the interviews below a better writer. Or reader. Same thing really.
http://www.charlierose.com/guest/view/2083 sixty minutes of him.
I used to say the most readable authors were the BIG THREE: Frederick Forsyth, Daniel Silva, Lee Child, (Low brow but great) Now I add Alan Furst. NOTE: some other fine entertaining writers that I always enjoy Robert Parker, Lawrence Block, Robert Crais, Sue Grafton and the THRILLERS bunch and the MYSTERIES bunch.
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