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Dark Star: A Novelby Alan Furst
Synopses & Reviews
SILENCE IN PRAGUE
In the late autumn of 1937, in the steady beat of North Sea rain that comes with dawn in that season, the tramp freighter Nicaea stood at anchor off the Belgian city of Ostend. In the distance, a berthing tug made slow progress through the harbor swell, the rhythm of its engine distinct over the water, its amber running lights twin blurs in the darkness.
The Nicaea, 6,320 gross tonnes, of Maltese registry, had spent her first thirty years as a coastal steamer in the eastern Mediterranean, hauling every imaginable cargo from Latakia to Famagusta, back to Iskenderun, down to Beirut, north to Smyrna, then south to Sidon and Jaffa-thirty years of blistering summers and drizzling winters, trading and smuggling in equal proportion, occasionally enriching, more typically ruining, a succession of owner syndicates as she herself was slowly ruined by salt, rust, and a long line of engineers whose enthusiasm far exceeded their skill. Now, in her final years, she was chartered to Exportkhleb, the Soviet Union's grain-trading bureau, and she creaked and groaned sorrowfully to lie at anchor in such cold, northern seas.
Riding low in the water, she bore her cargo gracelessly-principally Anatolian wheat bound for the Black Sea port of Odessa, a city that had not seen imported grains for more than a century. She carried, as well, several small consignments: flaxseed loaded in Istanbul, dried figs from Limassol, a steel drum of Ammonal-a mining explosive made of TNT and powdered aluminum—en route to a sabotage cell in Hamburg, a metal trunk of engineering blueprints for an Italian submarine torpedo, deftly copied at a naval research station in Brindisi, and two passengers: a senior Comintern official using a Dutch passport with the alias Van Doorn, and a foreign correspondent of the newspaper Pravda traveling under his true name, Andréeacute; Szara.
Szara, hands thrust deep in pockets, hair blown about by the offshore gale, stood in the shelter of a passageway and silently cursed the Belgian tug captain who, from the methodical chug of the engine, was taking his own sweet time attending to the Nicaea. Szara knew harbormen in this part of the world; stolid, reflective pipe smokers who were never far from the coffeepot and the evening paper. Unshakable in crisis, they spent the rest of their days making the world wait on their pleasure. Szara shifted his weight with the roll of the ship, turned his back to the wind, and lit a cigarette.
He had boarded the freighter nineteen days earlier, in Piraeus, having been assigned a story on the struggle of the Belgian dockworkers. That was one assignment; there was another. Killing time in a dockside tavern as the Nicaea was eased into moorage, he had been approached by the World's Plainest Man. Where, he wondered, did they find them? Russia marked people: deformed most, made some exquisite, at the very least burned itself deep into the eyes. But not this one. His mother was water, his father a wall. A small favor, said the world's plainest man. “You’ll have a fellow passenger, he is traveling on Comintern business. Perhaps you will find out where he is stopping in Ostend.
If I can,” Szara had said. The word if could not really be used between them, but Szara pretended it could be and the NKVD operative-or GRU or whatever he was—graciously conceded his right to suggest he had a choice in the matter. Szar
Often compared to Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, Alan Furst is a master of the spy thriller and one of the great war novelists of our time. He is the
As deputy director of one of the Red Orchestra spy networks in Paris, Andre Szara recruits an agent from Berlin who can supply information on German aircraft production and finds himself caught in a crisis of conscience. Reader's Guide included. Reprint. 30,000 first printing.
Paris, Moscow, Berlin, and Prague, 1937. In the back alleys of nighttime Europe, war is already under way. Andr
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