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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel Hardcover – June 15, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 260 customer reviews
Book 11 of 12 in the Night Soldiers Series

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Editorial Reviews

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).

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (June 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066034
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066032
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (260 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Salonika, Greece (now Thessalonika), is Greece's second largest city, after Athens. However, it is located in the northeastern part of Greece, much closer to the Balkan nations than to Athens. And it is here where Alan Furst, author of so many excellent WW2 novels, has based his new "spy thriller".

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".
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I enjoy a good historical novel, especially one set in such turbulent times as the 1930s. I also enjoy detective or spy novels, so any book that combines an interesting historical perspective with a detective or spy plot is high on my list.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Spies of the Balkans" introduces a new protagonist in Constantine Zannis, an incorruptible "senior police official" in Salonika, capital of Greek Macedonia. As drawn by the always inventive author Alan Furst, Zannis is a paragon of principle and ingenuity with considerable authority and reputation in his city and country. He watches warily, with the rest of the Greek population, as Hitler's war machine works its way south into the Balkans and inevitably threatens his homeland. In the interim period, Salonika becomes a center for the espionage networks--Nazi. British and neutral--that must be controlled and used as much as possible to the benefit of the small Greek nation. Zannis goes from spy catcher to military officer (as the Italians make a clumsy attempt to invade Greece) to manager of a critical terminus for an escape network for German Jewish refugees. His writ jumps to direct espionage when he reluctantly joins forces with British intelligence to rescue a scientist critical to the Allied war effort who is hiding in Paris. Zannis is later sent into Yugoslavia to assist in a coup d'etat that could head off a Nazi takeover of the country and further threaten Greece.

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.
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