Jean Casson is a former film producer from an upper class family without money. He had a chance to escape to England but, as the ship was leaving France, he returned to look for a young actress with whom he was in love. He could not find her and returned to Paris where he lives under an assumed name, Jean Marin, and has drifted down into desperate poverty where he has barely enough money to survive a few days and must sell his overcoat for a few more francs.
At the same time the Soviet Union has sent agents into Paris. Prior to the war they had supported the French Communist Party as it sought to gain power. Now, with Russia reeling from the German attack, they have been instructed to become partisans fighting Germans a continent away from Moscow.
A nondescript middle aged man, Weiss, is the local Soviet representative. While they have little with which to resist the Germans they undertake operations. The reprisals the Nazis exact upon the French population are of no concern to the committed Communists. The fate of the U.S.S.R. is in the balance and they will take action against the enemy.
Casson, who is on the run for having escaped from the Gestapo, is arrested by the French police. He gives up the pretence of his fake identity. The end has come for him. To his surprise he has been arrested so a member of the French intelligence services, Captain Degrave, from Vichy can speak with him. Casson had served under Degrave during the 1940 invasion in a film unit.
Degrave wants Casson to act as a liaison in contacting the French Communists about working together to resist the Nazis. Casson has been chosen because:
“It must be somebody neutral, apolitical, not a socialist, not a conservative. Somebody who has not fought in the political wars. You have certainly had contact with party members in the film industry – incidental, without problems. They will know who you are, they will know you haven’t worked against them.”
Thus a fragile alliance is launched that is equally being formed on an international scale. England has been the enemy of the U.S.S.R. since its creation but they have become allies to fight Nazi Germany.
Can Casson, a decent man, but far from a wily diplomat be the man to be the intermediary in this coalition of enemies?
The Communists are wary. The intelligence officers represented by Degrave have not only been their enemy in peacetime France they are openly working for the collaborators of the Vichy regime.
Casson is not of heroic demeanour, stature, background or eloquence but he is committed to France. He has been in her Army during two wars against Germany.
Casson, through Degrave, meets Helene another lonely soul trying to survive in France with the additional burden of being Jewish. They each long for a relationship.
Furst does not write highly paced thrill a page books. There is a gradual building of suspense that will have you wanting to know what happens to Casson. In my next post I will discuss the quintet of Furst books I have read. (Dec. 1/13)
*****My previous reads of Furst are (2002) - Kingdom of Shadows; (2004) - The Polish Officer; (2010) - Spies in the Balkans; (2012) - Dark Voyage. I have only reviewed the last two books.