I received a free copy of this book to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 28 January 2014.
Even with the European Union erasing barriers to trade and travel, Europe is still a fractured continent. There’s too much history and too many languages for the continent to forget its many borders. And in the future imagined by Dave Hutchinson in Europe in Autumn, all those barriers spring back to life and new countries create even more borders. This possible future Europe would be a spy novelist’s dream because the only easy way to travel would be clandestinely. Fittingly, the novel is as fragmented as the setting. Europe in Autumn tells the story of Estonian chef-turned-courier, Rudi, in a series of apparently chronological stories.
The novel opens in Krakow, in a small restaurant, where Rudi works as a chef. A group of rowdy Hungarian mafioso stop by for dinner, even though Restaurancja Max is supposed to be protected from this kind of thing. The next day, the restaurant receives a visit from their protector’s organization and Rudi finds himself with a new job. In the new Europe, sometimes people need to travel under the radar or under different names. Sometimes packages or information needs to be delivered quietly. Les Coureurs du Bois, named after the old French trappers. Rudi is trained in their old-fashioned spy lingo and techniques, but the first time out, he’s captured and interrogated by the government of one of the new countries.
In the story-like chapters, we see Rudi grow from novice to journeyman spy and courier. Then something goes terribly wrong in Berlin. Rudi is told to work with a partner after a partially failed mission. Then he finds that partner’s head inside of a train station locker. Even in an irregular occupation, this is too much for Rudi. He’s never able to get back into the groove after that. It doesn’t help that someone is messing with him. Some mysterious organization is hunting him, trying to get him to back off of his hunt for the people who are screwing up his life and hurting his family.
In the last third of Europe in Autumn, Hutchinson starts to present his chapter-stories from the perspective of tertiary characters who happen to be people Rudi needs to find his tormenters. It’s frustrating, because it’s hard to follow Rudi’s adventures from that kind of remove. We only get to see the edges of the action. These stories demand a lot of attention and deductive ability to be able to follow the plot. Like Rudi, you have to fill in a lot of gaps to figure out what’s going on and why. It’s worth it. I love when writers break the mold the way Hutchinson does here. The ending left me wanting more.