Monday, September 16, 2013

Jean Casson & Citrine - Characters from Alan Furst's WWII Spy Thriller 'The World at Night'

Earlier this summer my lovely wife introduced me to the work of author Alan Furst with the result being that over the past few weeks I've been like a man possessed, voraciously reading any titles that I can get my hands on. For those who don't know Furst's writing, over the past twenty-five years (and sixteen novels) he has essentially re-defined the WWII espionage genre. Written in the same vein as Eric Ambler and Graham Greene the protagonists of Furst's books are often good-but-flawed men who are elevated (or destroyed) by the extraordinary events that defined the 1930s and 40s.

The first book of his that I picked up was 'The World at Night' which is about a Parisian film producer, Jean Casson, who is caught up in the 1940 German invasion of France and the subsequent occupation of Paris. Casson is a compelling character - urbane, somewhat vain, a bit of a cynic, but he has a good heart, is very loyal to his friends and to France.

After the fall of France Casson, who served as a reservist at the front, tries to continue with his life as it was, but the creeping Nazi oppression steadily wears him down and he feels he has to do something rather than acquiesce or turn away.
'It has become fashionable for Parisians to avert their eyes when seated across from Germans in the Metro.  "Yes," Casson thinks sarcastically, "That would do it - - 'the French won't look at us, we're going home.'" 
So while Casson is drawn into the shadowy world of the French Resistance we cringe at his amateur's attempts of espionage, and in this Furst at times strains the reader's credulity. How Casson manages to keep his head amongst the bewildering tangled webs set before him is amazing. Several of his clandestine missions seem ill-conceived and rather disjointed, with the reader having little real idea of what purpose they serve. Nonetheless, it is Casson's character, his Parisian sangfroid and basic humanity that make him sympathetic and enjoyable to follow.

Near the middle of the the book Casson falls in love with a long-time acquaintance, a film actress named Citrine, who represents to him all that is good and fine in life but more importantly she reminds him of France itself. She serves as both his anchor and a constant source of anxiety. 

'The World at Night' moves at a very measured pace and it would seem that not much happens. This is definitely not a action-adventure novel, instead Furst's strength is being able to convey the mood within occupied Paris and describing the evolving French reaction to their conquerors - from resignation, to shame, to indignation and then to action.  While it may have its flaws 'The World at Night' is a great read, especially for any who enjoy the period and love the streets of Paris.

I suspected that I had a figure somewhere in the 'lead reserve' that would work nicely for Casson and, as luck would have it, I discovered this great sculpt from Copplestone Castings.

In Furst's book, Casson is never far from one of his beloved Parisian newspapers so I decided to give the figure a simple mod using a bit of folded cork foil in order to provide him with a copy of Le Figaro tucked under his right arm. 

I'm not a big fan of 'slotta' style basing so I ordered some alternate slot bases in 2mm MDF from Warbases which (to me anyway) provides a cleaner profile. I then painted on a cobblestones motif in shades of grey and tinted the entire base with GW Gryphonne Sepia wash.

Casson with a Gauloises clenched between his teeth and a copy of 'Le Figaro' under his arm.

For Casson's lover, Citrine, I chose another figure from Copplestone Castings, this time from the 'Swell Dolls' pack. In order to get an idea of appropriate clothing colours I had a bit of fun looking at some 1940s fashion books Sarah had squirrelled away, finally coming away with a red autumnal theme which seems fitting to the mood of the book.

Since virtually all of Furst's books feature a different character I think I may be composing a few more of these groupings in the months to come. It's all good - they'll serve very nicely for partizan skirmish games or a bit of 'Allo 'Allo! silliness. 

The World at Night: A Novel
Alan Furst
Random House 
January 2002
ISBN: 0375758585