Note: Even though this book is #13 in the series, it worked just fine as a stand alone.
Cristian Ferrar is a Spanish emigre living in France, having moved with his family at a young age, completed his schooling, and attained a position at a prestigious law firm. He is the sole financial support for his family, yet even with this on his mind, he can’t turn down the possibility to help the Spanish Republic in their civil war. Set in 1938, WWII wasn’t yet begun, but there is plenty of strive throughout Europe as powers large and small jockey for position and gather in weapons and assets. Cristian teams up with Max de Lyon as they enter Germany in search of a reliable arms dealer. They are joined off and on throughout the story by colorful associates and Cristian isn’t one to put his love life on hold just because he has to worry about spies and thugs.
I enjoyed the tandem plot lines of Spanish civil war and the hints that some bigger war (WWII) is coming. Germany is tightening up her borders and cracking down on dissenters. Russia is building up weapons stocks. The wealthy pick up and leave their homelands in search of safer grounds. There was plenty of uncertainty at this time and Furst captured that very well. Since Cristian’s family left Spain seeking a more peaceful and safer abode, he knows well the double-edged sword of being an emigre. His position at a prestigious Paris law firm, one that also has offices in New York, gave him heady creditability that let his bluff his way through more than one predicament.
While we are talking about Cristian, we have to talk about his ladies. I won’t talk about all of them, because that would take too many paragraphs. I will say that he seems to be a considerate lover, and usually a good one. Of course, his predilection towards love affairs from the start of the book made me suspicious that a woman may lead him into trouble with his spy work, so when that did happen, it was not a surprise. While there are several ladies in this novel, they are merely two-dimensional at best (they have a front side and a back side, and both are usually pleasing to Cristian’s eye). None of them have any role that impacts the plot and nearly all of them are love interests, though we do have at least 2 motherly figures tossed in. I think it is obvious that I would have enjoyed some of the ladies to take a more active role in the plot instead of being scenery.
Putting that one criticism aside, we had a pretty interesting plot that centered around trying to get weapons/armaments out of one country and into another. This was far more complicated than any movie ever depicted it and I was right there with Max and Cristian feeling their determined frustration over the matter. The story took us to several countries as secret agreements were made and potential assets were spied out. There were some grimly humorous scenes tossed in that made the book a joy to listen to.
As with any good historical fiction, I learned a few things. I won’t bore you with all of them, but here are two that I found particularly interesting. During this time, the Reich of Germany supported public nudity, as admiration of the ‘perfect Aryan body’ was very important. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy naked volleyball (except for maybe the heavy breasted – male or female!)? The second little bit was that Cristian took a date to an expensive restaurant and they were given male & female menus. The Lady’s menu lacked any prices. I guess in 1938, it was assumed in all the swanky places that the man was paying. An entertaining read!
The Narration: Daniel Gerroll was a very good pick for the voice of Cristian – light European accent, very cultured. He did have an interesting pronunciation of the Spanish word ‘abuela’ which means grandmother. Here in the desert Southwest, it is a 2 3 syllable word and Gerroll gave it 3 4 syllables. Perhaps that is high aristocratic Spanish instead of the Americanized Hispanic Spanish I know. Anyway, it was a small thing. All his voices were distinct and he did a good job with the female voices. I enjoyed his Greek accent and the few Yddish words he had to do.