A Book Spy Review: ‘Under Occupation’ by Alan Furst

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Under OccupationSet in the early 1940s, spy novelist Paul Richard becomes part of the story when he witnesses a fight between the Gestapo and an unidentified man who, before being shot and killed, passes Richard a note that ends up changing the writer’s life forever.

The document, Paul realizes—which includes a drawing and calculations—is actually schematics for some kind of military-grade weapon. Fully aware of the fact that he’s now in possession of a critical document that could have deadly consequences should it fall into the wrong hands, Paul uses his own hefty Rolodex of contacts to best figure out who to pass the information onto before it’s too late.

Realizing he needs to connect with the Allied forces, Paul ends up working with the resistance, where he poses as a journalist. That cover allows him to travel through France and Germany with little suspicion, but with each new assignment brings greater risks, and as Paul learns first-hand, spying on the Nazis is a dangerous game with little room for error. Of course, being the novelist that he is, Paul also sets out to write a new book that resembles his own circumstances, but as often is the case, reality winds up being stranger than fiction . . . and there’s no guarantee that he’ll even stay alive long enough to see how things end.

Much was made of the fact that Furst, John le Carre, Joseph Kanon, and Robert Harris were all going to be publishing new books within the span of a few weeks this year. While that is no doubt an impressive lineup of all-time great spy novelists, the truth is that the overall collective quality of said books doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

While Kanon’s latest was terrific and Harris scored big points for landing a major twist, both le Carre and Furst turned in solid thrillers that are just fine, if not a tad underwhelming. In fact, both share similar weaknesses—like flat characters and too many random coincidences, even for a thriller—that doesn’t necessarily ruin the story, but that certainly does take away from it. In Furst’s case, he manages to flesh out Paul pretty well, but the secondary characters are forgettable and bland. On the plus side, the pacing is steady and picks up steam as the story unfolds, and you can always count on his stuff to be well-written and expertly plotted, including this one.

At the end of the day, Alan Furst is one of the very best spy novelists to ever work in the genre, and while Under Occupation doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set from past works . . . his worst book is still better than most writers’ best offering.

Book Details

Author: Alan Furst 
Pages: 384 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0525536612
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: November 26, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10

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Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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