France 1941, British bombers fly every night to Germany, many aircraft don’t make it back home. The aircrew parachuting into Occupied France must somehow find their way home in order to fight again. A Hero in France by Alan Furst is a story of that individual battle within the wider war, seen from different sides by two ordinary men. This is the beginning of the French Resistance.
The man known as Mathieu – we don’t know his real name or identity until the very end of the book, this is the name by which he is known to his Resistance cell – escorts airmen along the north-south escape lines into Vichy France and onwards to Spain. Old clothes are sourced at jumble sales, innocent-looking shops serve as message drops, and a schoolgirl delivers messages by bicycle. In the beginning it was successful and relatively simple, but now the German command in Paris realizes there is a big problem. Word is getting around about the Resistance and people want to join, but how does Mathieu know who is genuine and who is a German spy?
In Hamburg, Otto Broehm, senior inspector of the police department, is transferred to the Kommandantur in Paris to stop the flow of downed airmen being returned to the UK by French people, working together in coordinated groups.
This is a huge subject and a story much-told, but by focussing on a few personalities and what happens to them, Alan Furst writes an engaging story which I read over a weekend. It is a low-key study of personalities, rather than a page-turning thriller.
‘A Hero in France’ by Alan Furst [UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson] Buy here
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