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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 5.0° F  Fair
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A Book A Week: Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Have you noticed that all the World War II espionage books by Alan Furst have similar titles? Dark Something, Night Something, Mission to Somewhere, Spies of This or That. Some books are meant to be read in order and others stand alone. How do you keep them straight, or know where to start?

I wasted a lot time dithering over whether I was supposed to start with Night Soldiers or The World at Night until finally someone told me it didn't matter, so I started with Mission to Paris.

This is Furst's most recent book, published in 2012, and as it turns out, it's as good a place as any to dive into his work. It's about an actor who goes to Paris to make a film in the late 1930s and gets caught up in some nasty business with the Germans and their French sympathizers.

Imagine Cary Grant as the actor -- no one contemporary will do. There's danger, but not too much; very little blood; some intrigue; but nothing that's too difficult to keep track of. Furst's writing is smooth and sophisticated, understated and confident. Just like Cary Grant.

I could complain a little about Furst's proclivity for the male gaze (lots of luscious descriptions of beautiful women's bodies, sex scenes always written from the man's point of view). In an ideal world an author this good would recognize that not all of his readers are straight men, especially since he has no trouble giving these delicious women lots of interesting things to do.

It's almost like Furst doesn't even realize he's doing it, since he's obviously making a good-faith effort to create women characters who have brains and agency. When I complained about this to a longtime Furst fan, she said, philosophically, "Oh, just roll your eyes and keep reading." That's pretty good advice.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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