Review: Blood of Victory by Alan Furst

Book info:

Form: e-book, pdf

Target audience: adults
Genre: historical spy thriller (WWII)


Blood of Victory is a panoramic novel, moving between Istanbul, Bucharest, Paris, Sofia and the Black Sea coast, involving German Nazi officers,Turkish secret police, Russian chekhists, French aristocrats, Roumanian millionaires, Polish exiles and British spies.

The story begins on a Black Sea freighter in the winter of 1940. I.A. Serebin, half-Russian half-Jewish poet and journalist, is on his way to Istanbul to effect the release of a former lover. He is a member of the International Russian Union, an organization of Russians living abroad during the first part of World War II. The novel brings Serebin and his protector, police officer Ascher Levitch, into contact with a foreign espionage network centred in the Russian emigre communities of Paris, Berlin and Belgrade, as well as in Odessa itself. Serebin conspires and contrives to muck up Nazi access to the Romanian oil – a commodity they desperately need to win the war.The title refers to a statement at a 1918 oil conference: “Oil, the blood of the earth, in the time of war, has become the blood of victory.” Very fitting.

What I liked:
I jumped right in the middle of that series (and rather closer to the end than to the beginnnig as far as I know); still I had no problems whatsoever with the narration and the plot. In fact I found out the book belongs to a series only when I finished it! Though the outcome was generally predictable, the route to the final showdown was intriguing and told in a beautiful, engaging way.I truly admired Furst’s ability to  portray so eloquently the atmosphere of insecurity and instability of the times, and to take the reader deeper into the shadows behind events than he or she may ever have been. There are scenes which make you want to slow down, pay attention and reread, time and again.
I have to admit the secondary characters stole the show a bit – especially the eastern Europeans in ‘Blood’ are marvelous characters, in particular two wild and wooly Serbian air force pilots and the Hungarian husband-and-wife team who run a tug up and down the Danube.This main strength of Alan Furst’s historical spy novels I suppose, is presenting real people, not imaginary master spies, the best, the fastest, the most efficient.  Instead  these are people with whom we can empathize, whose fears and wants sound like our own.

What I didn’t like:
I admit that for most of the novel I wondered about the main protagonist – what made him tick, what were his goals and dreams, what motivated him to fight against the Germans and their powerful war machine to the point of endangering his life. I am sorry to say I didn’t get the answer – not really. Seriebin seems to be partly frozen, wading through life as if in a coma; his emotions are stunted even if he goes to bed with beautiful Marie-Galante or he finds out that his former lover died of pneumonia.

I like books written in a “mysterious” and “dark” style but, in my humble opinion, it doesn’t have to entail that most of the time the reader cannot figure out exactly what why the characters do what they do or even who they are. Complex and oblique? Not a problem.Just plain confusing? No, thanks.

Final verdict:
I think I am willing to give this series one more chance to charm me and get me addicted. Perhaps it was a mistake, starting in the middle? Anyway it’s always a pleasure to read such a quality prose, even if the characters are a bit stolid and tepid.

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6 Responses to Review: Blood of Victory by Alan Furst

  1. I'd be interested to see what you think of the next book you read. From what I can tell they're all pretty much the same, just with different locales, but I've only read two so.

  2. Thanks Carole! I jumped right in the middle of the series so I wasn't that much surprised I didn't know this or that.

  3. We'll see – I will definitely take another Furst novel. The question is when.

  4. Blodeuedd says:

    Oh no Finns? How disappointing

  5. LOL Finns were lurking outside your field of vision, I could tell that much.

  6. rameau says:

    We do that quite a lot.

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