Alan Furst’s A Hero of France isn’t the first (Furst—get it?! Ha ha ha) of his books I’ve read. I really enjoy the middle aged, not so super, heroes—they’re very real—and the gritty underworld of the resistance in which they inhabit.
Mathieu is the ringleader of an underground resistance cell in Paris. The cell ferries downed RAF pilots back to England, helps Jews escape, and sabotages the occupying Germans in any way. It’s a complicated line to walk, though, being a respectable businessman in the day and a wanted man at night. These cells have short shelf lives for a reason: there’s danger, bribery, and informers around every corner.
These books are fun and informative. You get the dirty back alleys, the unsavory characters, and danger of 1940s Paris during World War II, not just the glamour and lights of the City of Love.
Mathieu’s a local hero, an every man who’s doing what he can to help those suffering under Germany’s thumb. He does his part for no other reason that it’s the right thing to do. He’s refreshingly normal, one of the thousands of resistance fighters throughout Europe that stepped up during the hard times.
He’s joined by an unlikely cast of characters, an aristocrat here, a shop lady there, a teacher, a student…they all share Mathieu’s desire and will, that same will that conquered Nazi Germany.
This book covers five months in the life of a Paris resistance cell. The culminating event, the one that forces the members to scatter, is getting a downed RAF pilot with too much knowledge out of France.
The description is dark, perfectly fitting for a dark period in French history. At this time, people couldn’t trust each other easily. Anybody could be an informer for the Germans. But there’s beauty in the darkness.
If you want to see beyond the fighting, opt for one of Alan Furst’s books. This one allows you to read between the lines of history, the stories that were never written down, that were carved on the heart; the only place they were safe.