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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel Paperback – June 14, 2011
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The summer and fall and winter of 1940 was the end of the "Phoney War" in Europe. Hitler had invaded west and had taken France and the Low Countries, and were threatening the Balkan States, some of whom were already "allied" with Germany. Greece had just been invaded by Mussolini's Italy, jealous of the success of Hitler's Germany and all the land they had conquered. The Greeks were able to hold off Italian advances, but everyone was waiting for Hitler to come to the aid of his Axis-partner, and finish off Yugoslavia and then Greece. (Understanding the politics of the Balkans is way above my pay-grade, but I can sort of appreciate the machinations of all involved).
Costa Zannis is a "special" police officer in Salonika, assigned to the city's "special" cases - those involving high-ranking officials and foreign dignitaries. "Special cases" which needed tact and discretion to handle. He has a small squad at his disposal, and extra funds from the government to help him along with his job. Furst has Zannis handle many cases, from aiding a refugee underground devoted to getting Jews from Germany to safety in Turkey and Egypt, to helping sneak a shot-down British scientist trapped in Occupied France escape back to England by taking him down the Balkans to Greece. Zannis is not an ambiguous hero. He does what he does from an honest belief in helping those who need it. He is quite honestly a good man.
Furst writes quite a nuanced book here. The plot is sometimes a little pot-boiler, but only a little. It's all in all a great read, particularly for those of us WW2 "junkies".
That places Alan Furst near the top of my favorite authors. He, along with Philip Kerr, are the kings of pre-World War II detective/spy novels. While Kerr bases his work around Bernie Gunther, a cynical Berlin detective in Weimar and pre-Nazi Berlin, Furst places his novels in locations around Europe, usually on the fringes of Europe where circumstances and the nascent police states of Italy, Germany and Spain were just coming into being. Furst's main character, such as it is, is the environment, the impending doom of war and the restriction of rights across Europe, and the small actions by individuals and groups to resist.
Furst has examined a number of different locations and stories related to pre-war Europe, from the Polish officer escaping the German Front, to spies in Paris and Serbia. In his most recent book, Spies of the Balkans, he considers the impact of the coming war to Greece.
As usual in many Furst novels, there is a spy or detective in the mold of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, an outwardly cynical professional with a real sense of right and wrong. In this novel he is a detective in Salonika who is called up as the Italians attack Albania and invade Greece. The Greeks fight hard and push the Italians back, but everyone recognizes that Hitler won't stand for that. The writing is on the wall that eventually Germany will come and clean up the mess Italy left behind.Read more ›
Like every Alan Furst novel, "Spies of the Balkans" has great period interest, is entertaining from the first page and generally respects the intelligence of the reader. This book, for me, was effective in evoking the creeping menace of the war and the general feeling of helplessness that the Greeks and other Balkan peoples must have felt in the face of that threat. Also a plus here was what seemed to be a shift in the stature of the story's protagonist. In most of Furst's other books (if memory serves), the principals are men slightly outside the centers of power--often lone wolves.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Furst is a first rate spy novel author - mant turns and twistsPublished 22 days ago by Dr. Jerry D Pipes
Fans of Alan Furst will be more than pleased with this one, set in the Balkans during the early 1940s.Published 3 months ago by Steven J. Hoffman
After reading this novel, I have a better understanding of a bit of Balkan history during WWII. Historical fiction is a painless way to absorb history, especially when it a... Read morePublished 4 months ago by joy
WW 2 stories always interest me as my parents were actively involved in it. This book, while being a spy/love story also gives many interesting historical facts about the months... Read morePublished 4 months ago by AlisonW
This book is part of a series, each different but connected by the era, that takes place Europe in the late 1930's when Germany was inserting its tentacles in the various countries... Read morePublished 5 months ago by John Lavin