“Red Gold”, the fifth book in the “Night Soldiers” series of novels by Alan Furst is a return to Paris and the world of Jean Casson, the main character from Furst’s previous novel “The World at Night”.
Reviewed previously “The World at Night” moved the Night Soldiers setting from Eastern Europe to Paris. Here we met French film director Jean Casson before the fall of France to Nazi Germany and his adventures under occupation. I don’t want to rehash that review but overall I came away unimpressed with that novel due to the problems I discussed in my previous review. “Red Gold”, which starts about 3 months after the end of “The World at Night”, brings us back to Paris and puts us right back into the life of Jean Casson, now a fugitive in hiding. Given the same main character and story location was Furst able to create a more compelling story this time around?
The answer is an enthusiastic yes. All of the issues that plagued “The World at Night” have been fixed with this novel. Casson, now living under the assumed name Jean Marin, starts the novel living in a cheap hotel. Furst, being the master of description that he is, starts the novel off right:
PARIS. I8 SEPTEMBER, I941.
Casson woke in a room in a cheap hotel and smoked his last cigarette. The window by the bed was open and the shade, yellow and faded, bumped gently against the sill in the morning breeze. When it moved he could see fierce blue sky, a bar of sun-light on the lead sheeting of the roof across the courtyard. Something in the air, he thought, a ghost of something, and the sky was lit a certain way. So then, autumn.
Casson, just a step away of being completely out of money, goes to sell a coat and meets a man named Lazenac; and so begins his story of life as part of the underground of the resistance.
The story is very entertaining. Casson, tired of life under the boot of the Nazis, decides that he has to do something. Unlike the last book this is not the bumbling Casson. He’s not a fighter either but definitely a much more effective member of the resistance. Along the way we meet a new cast of characters as well as revisit many from the last story as Casson finds that many of his old friends and acquaintances have friends in the right places.
One interesting aspect of the story is the involvement of the NKVD who played a prominent role in the first books in the “Night Soldiers” series. I have to assume that Furst did his homework and that the NKVD did have operatives working in France at the time assisting the Communist faction of the French resistance. It makes sense that, with the fall of the French government, different groups would have an interest in taking over once the Nazis were out. In the book it ends up being a classic case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. On one side we have de Gaulle and the British. On another side the FTP (the Communists). On yet another the Vichy government. All of these groups, while interested in controlling France on their own, were allied against the Nazis. It makes for a large portion of the storyline and I found it fascinating.
The best part? Furst doesn’t overuse the sex scene as much as he did in the previous novel. They’re here but toned down and not as prevalent. My issue with them in the last book was the overuse. Casson seemed more the playboy than the spy. Here they’re few and far between and used appropriately.
This was a very enjoyable read, with an engaging story and fast pacing. I read the novel quickly and am looking forward to the next.