In 1937, Cristián Ferrar is a senior partner for Coudert Frères. He has a comfortable life in Paris, keeps his family in style in a town out in the French country side. He’s not married, but has no trouble finding women to spend time with. He’s got a reputation as a problem solver so, when an official with the Spanish Republican intelligence service is killed in Madrid, Cristián is summoned to take his place in getting arms and munitions to Spain. Midnight in Europe, by Alan Furst, shows us a year in the life of Cristián Ferrar as he rushes across Europe “seeing what he can do.”
When the book opens, the Spanish Civil War has been raging for a year and a half. Things are not going well for the Republican forces. They hold Madrid and Barcelona, but most of the countryside is in the hands of Francisco Franco’s Nationalist (actually fascist) forces. If you know your history, you know that Ferrar’s efforts and the efforts of the other arms merchants he works with are doomed. This hindsight lends an air of tragic romance to Ferrar’s story in some ways, but also a sense of futility—even if Ferrar et al. doesn’t know it yet. Meanwhile, Ferrar helps Count Polanyi try to coerce the Count’s nephews over a deal involving a bank, a hotel, and a trio of viszlas. Later, he also is asked to help the Marquesa Maria Christina over the loss of a cash loan her husband made before his death without writing anything down. Each time Ferrar is asked to help someone, no matter how impossible it seems, Ferrar agrees to “look into it” and “see what he can do.”
There are some entertaining scenes of action in Midnight in Europe, but they’re few and far between. More than anything else, this book tries to capture the mood in Europe right before World War II. Everyone knows its coming. Some are already moving to protect their assets and make escape plans. The war in Spain is just a prologue to what’s going to come.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for a fair review. It will be released 3 June 2014.