In Mission to Paris, Alan Furst has a clever idea and a lot of potential with his story, but it lacks development and is far from the great spy novel that it could be. The story revolves around Fredric Stahl, a Hollywood actor, who has been sent to Paris to work on a film about World War I. The filming begins at the same time that the roots of World War II are being planted and Stahl is quickly invited to social engagements that are hosted by the richest and most powerful Germans in Paris. While he believes this to be part of a warm welcome, he soon begins to suspect that the Germans have other plans and would like to use him to influence the public opinion of the Nazi regime (and given Stahl’s Austrian heritage, he would be accepted in Germany).
Stahl speaks to Wilkinson, a representative at the American embassy, and comes to realize that he could take advantage of an opportunity offered by the Nazis (to judge a mountain film festival) in order to gather information for the Americans. Under the pretenses of promoting his film, Stahl travels to Germany and sees the true state of affairs. After returning to Paris, he realizes he can no longer remain neutral and decides to do one more exchange while filming in Morocco. The tension mounts as the Germans begin to suspect Stahl’s involvement and he must decide what to do in order to survive and return to America safely.
While the plot sounds solid from the outset, the first third of the book is a description of Stahl’s character and focuses on his outlook as a movie star and his position in the social sphere. The spy situation, although seemingly the center of the story based upon the book jacket, only takes up a fraction of the story. The rest of the story focuses on Stahl’s romantic interests and his endeavors to explore Paris. The characters are underdeveloped and the story overall is a slow read without the action and suspense that is expected in spy novels. The story ends rather suddenly and leaves the reader to tie up loose ends.