Friday, 20 June 2014

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

On a soft, winter evening in Manhattan, the fifteenth of December, 1937, it started to snow; big flakes spun lazily in the sky, danced in the lights of the office buildings, then meted as they hit the pavement.

Before the opening pages of text there is a 1938 map of Europe which helps to establish the genre; however, the line above ruins any pleasant expectations I might have had.

The only thing worse than opening with a weather report is opening with a poetic weather report. I blame TV for this line. The author is trying to establish a visual before story: conflict and character. It does not hook, and I can't help but feel my time has been wasted. The description does not end with this line either. The whole first paragraph reads like a travel ad to New York, yes, come visit 1937.

Only with the second paragraph do we get a character together with the headlines of the international news, that of marches, riots, assassinations etc. and some history lessons about Franco before this opening drops into back story regarding this character walking in the snow in New York - with a briefcase. We can only assume there is something important in the briefcase, so readers should watch it closely.

There is a scene here, but it is of a man walking, so the scene is broken up with back story and other expository things to provide context of who this is and why they are walking, yet none of makes me care. It is almost as if the author created the walking scene to break up the back story, and why not? After all, this is usually the purpose of the walking opening, to have characters walking towards an actual plot, and with each step the characters take, we learn about their moods, family history, motivation, fashion tastes and if we're lucky what they had for breakfast.

In general though, what we learn is that the Soviets are doing this and the Nazis are doing that etc.

First thing said:

"Hello, Christian."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

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