Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst – In Cristan Ferrar, Furst has created another fascinating character operating in the shadows of pre-World War II. Ferrar’s family left Spain in 1909 during a period of political upheaval. They moved to France where Ferrar grew up and became a lawyer. Fluent in several languages he joined Coudet Freres, an international law firm with offices in New York and Paris. The firm has a varied clientele representing individuals and corporations.
Based in Paris Ferrar has risen to partnership status and a comfortable financial situation.
While he may go to court his gifts as a lawyer are as a counselor. His polished manner and, clear concern for their needs, find favour with the firm’s elite clientele.
While adept at dealing with multi-country issues and disputes he is not political and has not been involved in the Spanish Civil War.
Life changes when he is invited to become the Spanish Republic’s arms buyer. Astounded, as he has no experience in the world of arms sales, he learns the Republic is desperate for intelligent men to take jobs normally performed by professionals. The previous buyer was the former curator of an art museum.
Ferrar, the only support for his family, declines the invitation but agrees to help Max de Lyon, a Slavic Jew, with a cloudy past that has provided him with abundant connections across Europe.
Ferrar is as suave personally as he is professionally. He loves woman but relationships always falter. He is now in his mid-40’s and content with liaisons. In New York he has a passionate, though infrequent, ongoing affair with Eileen Moore, a librarian.
Once engaged in the arms business the dichotomy in his life is swiftly demonstrated.
As a lawyer he is engaged in a dispute involving a bank owned by a Hungarian family. The feuding family members are stalemating executive decisions. In an effort to gain leverage a brother will not agree that his sister can have the family dogs beloved by her.
At the same time the Republic is desperate for anti-tank guns to counter the tanks supplied Franco by Germany. De Lyon and Ferrar work on a convoluted purchase of Czech made guns.
Meeting a contact in Berlin in 1938 on the prospective arms purchase provides Ferrar with a vivid illustration of the unlimited authority of the Gestapo and SS in Nazi Germany. Their ruthless and corrupt actions confirm to Ferrar that a new war is near.
For some reason I had not thought about how arms purchases would have been increasingly difficult from 1937 through 1939 as nations all around Europe sought and bought arms in preparation for the coming war.
Once again Furst takes the reader into murky quasi-spying operations. The arms world is at its most profitable moment in Europe. There is no longer a Depression for arms manufacturers and dealers.
Ferrar is in Furst’s line of quiet heroes. They are men willing to risk their lives to aid those confronting the Fascist menace. The books have left me wondering how many real life men and women undertook such actions before 1939.
Furst is a master at creating tales in the shadows of pre-war Europe that feature men of integrity. No generation has too many such men and women.