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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel Hardcover – June 15, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in Greece in 1940, this powerful WWII thriller from Furst (The Spies of Warsaw) focuses on Costa Zannis, a senior Salonika police official known for his honesty and ability to settle matters before they got out of hand. As the Nazis' intentions for Europe's Jews becomes clear, Zannis goes out of his way to aid refugees seeking to escape Germany. When Mussolini's troops invade Greece, Zannis joins the army, where he meets Capt. Marko Pavlic, who as a policeman in Zagreb investigated crimes committed by the Ustashi, Croatian fascists. With their similar politics, Zannis and Pavlic soon become friends and allies. Subtle details foreshadow the coming crimes perpetrated by the Nazis in the Balkans. For example, Zannis learns from a colleague that someone has been taking photos of the contents of a synagogue so that the Germans can more easily identify what to plunder. Furst fans will welcome seeing more books set in less familiar parts of Europe. (June)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Spies of the Balkans is a cut above the usual espionage fare; it excels in plot, character, and atmosphere--an unusual combination for the genre. Zannis, a younger prototype of characters seen in Furst's previous novels, especially captivated critics, as did the author's "Furstland," "a twilight realm of people on the run--refugees, Jews, leftists and others out of political favor" (Denver Post). Richly researched, the novel offers a compelling portrait of wartime, with few clichés. Only the Chicago Sun-Times criticized some less-developed characters and the plethora of historical detail. Most readers, however, will find that there "is no more intelligent or gripping writer of spy fiction today than Alan Furst" (Daily Beast).
Top customer reviews
The characters in Furst's novels generally play an oblique role in the war effort through the necessarily indirect method of espionage. With few exceptions, the effects their efforts have in moving their cause forward are hard to measure, or even sometimes understand. In Spies of the Balkans, the effects on human lives are direct and obvious. Also, Furst's characters usually already have their roles in the war defined, but in Spies of the Balkans, the hero, Zannis, must struggle with the decision whether to join the effort. The result is a more tangible and less abstract story than one normally associates with Furst. Zannis is also unusual among Furst's heroes in that he is in a position of civil authority. This gives him access to resources that make his tasks a bit easier than the tasks of protagonists in other Furst novels, but no less risky. The stage here is a location that is usually considered an unimportant theater of the war effort, but Furst capitalizes on that to give the story an exotic setting.
While this novel includes Furst's trademark exquisite portrayals of 1930s european ambience, the detail of his earlier books is missing. For the first time, a Furst novel includes a subplot that comes across as incredulous and unnecessary. But Spies of the Balkans provides a vivid portrait of an aspect of the early phases of WWII that is unfamiliar to most readers and is told by a master weaver of words.
And then there was the romance -- the worst ever. I've read six of his novels now, so I'm obviously a fan. They all have a romance threaded between the cloak and dagger stuff, and they all seem, at least retrospectively, somewhat arbitrary, but this one was strictly cut-and-paste. How did it start? He sees her through a car window, she was "stunning". STUNNING! Then, some weeks later, she rubs her backside against the back of a sofa. Presumably in Greece in 1940 that was a clear signal of sexual interest. Understand, at that point they had not interacted with one another at all.
Is it fun? Yes, in a desultory way. Did I find the things I look for in an Alan Furst novel? Yes, but seriously diminished by its numerous glaring flaws.
Mr. Furst, please listen to your editors, and please give us something more polished than this cheap imitation effort.
Most recent customer reviews
interesting characters and locale.
I couldn't put it down.
I have a number of his prior books, so I am a fan.Read more