The Spanish civil war during the period of 1936 to 1939 was essentially a conflict between relatively right wing nationalists and republicans who seem to be more left wing. The nationalists did receive a lot of support and material from Germany and Italy, both of those nations seeing the war as a good way to test and practice hardware and tactics. On the republican side, Mexico and the Soviet Union offered support while most other countries were not inclined to intervene. However, there was a considerable amount of clandestine movement of supplies, arms and ammunition, with France providing a considerable amount although officially offering non-intervention support.
- Alan Furst
The main character in the book is Cristián Ferrar, described as a Spanish emigré, who is a successful solicitor living and working in Paris for a French law firm with international clients and connections. The story starts just before Christmas 1937, with Ferrar attending a series of meetings in the New York branch of Coudert Fréres, the company he works for. The meetings also serve as an opportunity to meet his lover, Eileen Moore. However, Ferrar is convinced he is being watched and followed; but, by whom?
Back in Paris he is contacted by the embassy of the Spanish republicans and agrees to assist in the procurement of arms and ammunition for the good of the republican cause but does not realise he is actually taking the place of a previous operative named Castillo who was executed while trying to close an arms deal. In taking on this he is lucky because the firm he works for is sympathetic to anti-fascist causes and he is able to follow his own legal cases while carrying out various tasks for the republicans.
The embassy introduces him to Max de Lyon, a one time arms agent and, together with some unlikely comrades, he is involved in several clandestine missions. A visit to Poland has them borrowing a train in order to have armament loaded onto a ship while a similar sort of operation in Russia results in stealing from the Soviet army. Eventually the Russian ammunition is delivered by ship to the port of Valencia after a running gun battle at sea with some of those supporting fascist regimes.
Intermingled with the episodes of action are the, almost, casual affairs with women and it can only be due to the fact that, although handsome, he is getting no younger, and hence making the most of opportunity. It is also interesting to note just how much Ferrar likes his food because the detailed descriptions of some of the meals leave one almost hungry.
What was disconcerting, at first, was the way the book seemed to be made up of several very short separate episodes but there is a common link throughout and whole plot is seen to be quite subtle. Quite well written and easy to read this is certainly suitable for any who like this type of undercover sort of background to espionage. Apparently this is only one of several books Alan Furst has written in the form of historical espionage thrillers during the decade before the second world war.