There is a line in Pilote de Guerre, one of my favorite Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novels, in which the pilot, in describing his mission, says, “J’ai fait mon métier.” It means, simply, “I did my job.” It is a statement of fact that sees no particular glory or heroism in doing what needs to be done.
And this sense of simply doing one’s job, a job which to the rest of us seems rather heroic, pervades Alan Furst’s A Hero of France.
This is an adult novel that tells the story of Mathieu, a French Resistance leader, over five months in 1941. His Gallic acceptance of doing what must be done is marvelously contrasted to the delight in things that seem ordinary: the smell of potatoes fried in beef fat, the taste of black-market cheese, the feel of a cashmere sweater. This is my first Furst novel, but I think it won;t be my last!
Publisher’s Summary: Paris. 1941. The City of Light is dark and silent at night. But in Paris and in the farmhouses, barns, and churches of the French countryside, small groups of ordinary men and women are determined to take down the occupying forces of Adolf Hitler. Mathieu, a leader of the French Resistance, leads one such cell, helping downed British airmen escape back to England.
Alan Furst’s suspenseful, fast-paced thriller captures this dangerous time as no one ever has before. He brings Paris and occupied France to life, along with courageous citizens who outmaneuver collaborators, informers, blackmailers, and spies, risking everything to fulfill perilous clandestine missions. Aiding Mathieu as part of his covert network are Lisette, a seventeen-year-old student and courier; Max de Lyon, an arms dealer turned nightclub owner; Chantal, a woman of class and confidence; Daniel, a Jewish teacher fueled by revenge; Joëlle, who falls in love with Mathieu; and Annemarie, a willful aristocrat with deep roots in France, and a desire to act.
As the German military police heighten surveillance, Mathieu and his team face a new threat, dispatched by the Reich to destroy them all.
Shot through with the author’s trademark fine writing, breathtaking suspense, and intense scenes of seduction and passion, Alan Furst’s A Hero of France is at once one of the finest novels written about the French Resistance and the most gripping novel yet by the living master of the spy thriller.