Despite all the baseball last month, I still managed to get through four books. One of which inspired me to read two other of my October selections. For those keeping score at home, I began November with 44 books read for the year so far.
Night Soldiers – Alan Furst
You may recall I read Furst’s Dark Star a couple months back without knowing it was book two of a series. I enjoyed it so much I decided to go back and knock out the first book in the series. Wise choice, as I enjoyed this one even more.
Once again, Furst begins in Eastern Europe in the 1930s. In this case, our hero is Khristo Stoianev, a young Bulgarian who runs afoul of the local fascist mobs. First, he watches as they beat his brother to death. After he exacts his revenge, he is whisked off to Moscow by a Soviet agent for training in the NKVD, the pre-World War II Soviet espionage agency. While in training, he forms a brotherhood with four other agents. These become relationships that will save his life in the coming years.
He travels to Spain during the Civil War. His brothers help him avoid being swept up in one of the periodic purges of officers deemed not to be ideologically pure. He escapes to Paris, where he lives underground until he is framed for a crime someone else committed and is sent to prison. As the Germans prepare to invade, his NKVD brothers help him slip out of captivity. From there, it’s on to the French countryside where he helps organize the resistance movement. In the closing days of the war, he moves on to Prague, and then navigates the Danube through the collapsing German lines to head toward a life of uncertainty in the new, Soviet occupied territory.
Night Soldiers is a fine book, full of history and intrigue, but also with an occasional light touch. There’s far more humor in it than in Dark Star. I’d love to follow Stoianev through his post-World War II adventures. But the series changes protagonists and focus through the rest of its run. Book three is already on the shelf to be read in November.
D-Day Minute By Minute – Jonathan Mayo
After finishing Night Soldiers, I went to the library with a plan. Then I saw this book on a shelf. It’s a very quick read – perfect for during the baseball playoffs – that paints a general picture of what happened just before and during the invasion of France on June 6, 1944. It made me want to go watch Saving Private Ryan again.
Hell And Good Company – Richard Rhodes
For years I’ve wanted to read a good book about the Spanish Civil War. Problem is there aren’t that many that are in English and those that exist are over 500 pages. That’s a little much for just wanting an overview of what happened during the conflict. This came out not too long ago, and he been on my list since its release. Night Soldiers, and its section in Spain, made me go get it.
It’s a very a interesting view of the war. It very casually lays out the causes for war, and highlights a few of the main battles. But Rhodes spends most of his time working through issues that, at first glance, seem secondary. He goes on a fascinating tangent about the history of blood transfusions to set up how modern blood transfusion techniques first became widely used during the Spanish war. As did the idea of forward field hospitals. He highlights a few medical professionals from England, Canada, and the US who were key in setting up the wartime healthcare system. Rather than focus on Franco or any of the Republican leaders, he spends more time writing about Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, and how their experiences and dispatches framed how the world viewed the war. He goes into exhaustive detail of how Pablo Picasso painted his Guernica mural following the destruction of that city.
He also hits the obligatory points about the Germans and Italians supporting the Nationalists, the Russians supporting the Republicans, and the rest of the world largely staying out of the war; and how the Germans particularly experimented with battle techniques they would perfect a few years later in Poland and France. But his focus is on personalities while drawing a very general arc of the actual war. Which, while limited, was probably perfect for what I wanted to learn about the war.
World Gone By – Dennis Lehane
The latest, and perhaps final, entry in Lehane’s Joe Coughlin series. Here Coughlin, the behind-the-scenes power broker in the Tampa mob scene, gets sucked into a war between the other factions that control Florida during World War II. Like all Lehane books, it’s a quick, suspenseful, enjoyable read.