TITLE: Mission to Paris
AUTHOR: Alan Furst
I'm addicted to Alan Furst's Europe-in-World War II novels.They're all connected, even if the protagonists and other main characters are different, and this book has many references to characters and incidents in other of his novels. The setting, as it often is in his books, is Paris in 1938-39, on the brink of war. An American movie star, but European by birth, is in Paris to film a movie, where he becomes a subject of interest to influential members of a group advocating for peace and cooperation with Germany, aka appeasement. If they can get the American actor, Fredric Stahl, to appear to be a friend of Germany and an advocate for peace, it will be quite a coup for the Nazi propaganda machine. And those attempts bring Stahl to the American embassy in Paris, where he becomes an informal spy, one of many, being run out of the embassy to spy on Germans. Stahl's role is mostly as a courier, but it is a dangerous one.
At so many points in this novel, it felt like more than the usual work of historical fiction. It felt like a primer for today, especially when a journalist explains to him how the Nazis are trying to use him and how they manipulate the media, behind the scenes, to shape the public's perceptions and influence their opinions. How smear campaigns were used to destroy anyone trying to warn France of the Nazi danger and the need to re-arm France for war. So much of what Hitler's minions and wealthy and influential French people did echoes what is going on today. Control the media, control the message, and you can control enough of the population. And as we now know, it mostly worked for Germany, because when they did invade France, they met with weak military resistance. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but the invasion these days doesn't necessarily come from without, but from within to slowly erode democracy.
I read a lot of historical fiction and a lot of science fiction and I realized they have one thing in common: They both point out human behavior, with lessons for us to learn, lessons too many people never learn, and so, we keep making the same mistakes. This book is one of Furst's best, a good blend of intrigue, suspense, characters to root for, and a history lesson that shouldn't be ignored.