This book takes place in familiar Alan Furst territory: Paris right before WWII, when it's clear what's coming, but most people are still trying not to think about it.
"Most people" includes Cristian Ferrar, a Spanish aristocrat who has relocated his family to Paris to avoid the chaos that was Spain before and during the Civil War. When we meet him, he's folding up a newspaper and putting it back in his briefcase, "at least for the moment he would spare himself the smoke and fume of Europe on fire." He's a lawyer, working at a very conservative law firm in Paris. He gets pulled into helping the Republicans arm themselves, which his firm supports tacitly, but makes it clear that he can't embarrass them at all. His adventures become steadily less straightforward until he is buying arms in Berlin and trying to get them shipped to Spain in the face of many attempts to prevent him from doing so from people who appear to know a good deal more about his movements than he would have preferred.
This book seems more sophisticated to me than many of Furst's books. Ferrar himself and several other men who have been pulled into the arms efforts identify spies much more quickly than some of Furst's other protagonists (although Ferrar didn't see the danger until long after a reader who is paying attention sees it). Ferrar is a bit starry-eyed about the Republican side and is shocked when he realizes they've executed someone. But he's getting more sophisticated about evil, too--when he hears the story, he shakes his head "in sorrow. He'd heard so many of these stories as Spain tore itself to pieces." Some people you meet and even like have very sad endings, brought on more by the time and place in which they were living than anything else, which Ferrar understands better by the end of the book than he did at the beginning. Of course, the saddest ending at this point is in Spain and the book's ending is about as sad and ambiguous an ending as Furst has ever produced.
I have often complained that Furst shouldn't write romance in his books and this time, he controlled himself much better than in other outings, which I liked. No big emotional entanglements, thank goodness.
I also enjoyed his language. The two quotes above so perfectly capture what is must have been like to have been alive and in Europe during that time. Surely all countries tear themselves to pieces in civil war. And "smoke and fume" makes me think of images of hell and the devil, which are both very appropriate images for what was about to happen.
So...not quite as good as his earliest books, but much better than some of the middle ones (although even Furst's not-quite-as-good books are engaging reads). I thought the previous book was very good and this one even better. I hope Furst continues on this trajectory.