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Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst
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Spies of the Balkans (2010)

by Alan Furst

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6292615,431 (3.75)60
  1. 00
    The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning (ten_floors_up)
    ten_floors_up: Set in a similar timeframe, but with different Balkan locations (Bucharest, Athens). Literary fiction rather than thriller, with a touch of autobiography. The characters here are English expatriates caught up in the events of the times.
  2. 11
    Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (one-horse.library)
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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
This book is a grat story. The main character is Costa Zannis, a police detective in Salonika in Greece. The story takes place just as the Second World War is starting. Because he is a nice, fair person with a network of friends and contacts, he becomes increasingly involved in political intrigues and people smuggling. The background story of Hitler, Mussolini, Mextax and the Yugoslavian government is fascinating to view through Zannis' character. If you like a really well written spy novel, read this. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Sep 2, 2014 |
"So, don't trust the telephone. Or the newspapers. Or the radio. Or tomorrow."

'Spies of the Balkans' is a subtle and thoroughly satisfying story of war-time, Second World War-time, set in Greece, in Salonika, in 1940 - the early, confused, months of the war.

Furst portrays perfectly, the ambiance and atmosphere of a country not initially involved, but caught in the crossfire and seeing the war creep inexorably closer. Naive spy games are being played out, mostly and typically, by the British, it has to be said. Johnny Foreigner can be persuaded, if not bought, to just do this one more thing as a favour for...for what? Past favours? Promises of protection that can't possibly be fulfilled or have no intention of being fulfilled. The sound of the British Empire crumbling and fading to insignificance in the face of a new, harsher reality, is deafening. But, that's just me. Here, people are getting on with it, matter of fact. There's a problem, they solve it. They get the job done. Costa Zannis is the man, in Salonika, who can. A man with contacts and connections seemingly throughout Eastern Europe. At one point, he's having an affair with a woman who turns out to be a British spy, of sorts. At another, he's pulling in favours and running the eastern side of a rat-run smuggling Jewish people out from under the Gestapo's noses and across Europe to some sort of freedom - not just a better future, but a future. Full stop. Then he's swooning like a love-sick calf over an old school-girl crush, extricating herself from the sweaty grip of a shipping magnate. In between, he's got to go fight the Italians up in the Macedonian mountains, then try and make sure his family also escape to freedom. In the middle, the good old British are back, reasoning if he can smuggle Jews out of Germany, he can smuggle stupid British scientists out as well.

This is indeed espionage writing at its best. Ordinary espionage, maybe is a better description. The espionage of necessity. It's not going to have you on the edge of your seat, it's not going to have you breathless in anticipation of the next stunning shock or cheap thrill. But it is going to keep you gripped in much more subtle ways. It is beautifully written, sparse but effective, measured and delightfully paced. A bit like how Olen Steinhauer's Balkan Trilogy could or should have been written, I felt at times. Steinhauer got close, but Furst hits the mark.

What I came away with was a feeling that I'd got to know a character who might well have existed, who maybe did exist, I hoped so anyway, who did what he could, because he could. And didn't think much more about it than that. He got on with it. If there really were people like Zannis, we owe them. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
By the numbers spy thriller, with the added interest of being set in the turbulent Balkans in the early years of WWII. It concerns the activities of a handsome Greek police officer who navigates the twisted loyalties and dangers of wartime Europe while saving endangered people from the clutches of the Nazis, finding time along the way to bed various women who happen to cross his path. "Slick" is the word that springs to mind when describing this book. It is the literary equivalent of sliding on a thick coat of oil across a highly polished floor. You begin at the beginning, slide effortlessly and quickly through with minimal emotional engagement, and exit at the end, having been entertained, certainly, but wondering if that few hours of your life invested was well-spent. There is simply a lack of drama in the story, very little sense that the characters are ever in any danger, which is essential for a spy story. The protagonist is is simply too be good to be true, he never encounters a situation he can't instantly think his way out of, and flits through the dangers of wartime Europe with ludicrous ease. The author has a habit of setting up situations and then resolving them without any attendant suspense or drama, which certainly moves the story along very quickly, but sort of defeats the purpose of a thriller. For instance, our heroic protagonist shoots an SS officer in the face, in the middle of Occupied Paris, which would seem to guarantee an intense manhunt and plenty of close shaves. Not a bit of it. Two pages later, he's safely out danger and back home in Greece without turning a hair. Even James Bond had to survive being captured and tortured a few times. Not our hero, he's literally the Teflon Man. In addition, he's also, as required, impossibly attractive to women. Throughout the novel, a whole string of women find it impossible to resist disrobing and sampling his manly charms between the sheets. The most ludicrous example of this concerns his true love, who has barely cast a first glance his way and is straight away indicating by various subtle movements that she wants to play hide the sausage with him. I mean, I have seen lust at first sight in real life, but it usually involves copious amounts of alcohol and always at least the exchange of some words. Again, even the immortal Bond struck out once or twice, but not our hero. Really, that is the whole story of this book, it's just too unbelievable to be taken seriously. Which is a pity, because the author's description of the chaos of wartime Europe, the seedy underworld and labrynthine politics of the Balkans, are very good. the book just needed a bit of genuine drama and a more human protagonist to be a top class spy thriller. As it is, it is very much an airplane read, buy it at the airport, read on a long flight, leave it in the motel room for the next guest because its not worth lugging around once you're done. Not bad, not good, mildly entertaining, but guaranteed not to stretch your intellectual capacities in any way. ( )
  drmaf | Mar 3, 2014 |
In theory, I disapprove of Furst for his rigid adherence to formula. But it's a good formula. And he executes so well.
  sonofcarc | Jun 26, 2013 |
SYNOPSIS
Salonika, 1940. To the bustle of tavernas and the smell of hashish, a secret war is taking shape. In the backrooms of barbers, envelopes change hands, and in the Club de Salonique the air is thick with whispers. Costa Zannis is the city's dashing chief detective - a man with contacts high and low, in the Balkans and beyond. And as unknown ships and British 'travel writers' trickle through the port, he is a man very much in demand. Having helped defeat Italy in the highlands of Macedonia, Zannis returns to a city holding its breath. Mussolini's forces have retreated - for now - but German sights are fixed firmly on the region. And as the situation in Germany worsens, Zannis becomes involved in an audacious plot - smuggling Jews to Istanbul, through the back door of Europe. The British hear he can penetrate the continent's closed borders, and soon Zannis is embroiled in the resistance, and in a reckless love affair that could jeopardise everything. With a remarkable cast of operatives, SPIES OF THE BALKANS is a brilliant new espionage novel from Alan Furst.


Gosh - my first Furst! Why have I only discovered this author now?

Reading this author is like watching the best spy noir film you have
never seen. You don’t read this book you experience it.

The author’s sense of time and place create one of the most convincing
pre second World War settings I have ever read. As someone said no one
captures the turbulence, ambivalence, chaos and turmoil of Europe in this era as well as Alan Furst. Against the background of the ominous approach of WW2 his very ordinary characters are trying to carry on with normal life but in reality are having to make extraordinary choices (moral/immoral)and life or death decisions in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia.

“And, with much of Europe occupied by Nazi Germany, and Mussolini's armies in Albania, on the Greek frontier, one wasn't sure what came next. So, don't trust the telephone. Or the newspapers. Or the radio. Or tomorrow.”


The story has a fatalistic feel of inevitability, and powerlessness as
the Greeks wait for the invasion. When it, comes the story suddenly
becomes a race against time as the main character strives to ensure
the safety of his family and lover in the madness and panic that the
advance of the Germans brings.

Highly recommended
( )
  jan.fleming | May 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Mr. Furst has written so often about such men, the intrigue that surrounds them, and their subtle, intuitive maneuvering that he risks repeating himself. But Zannis is a younger, more vigorous version of the prototype than some. And he is Greek, which adds a whole new perspective to Mr. Furst’s view of Europe before and during World War II, given the strategic importance of Greece’s ability to resist German domination. If shades of its personal drama are by now familiar to Mr. Furst’s readers, this book’s larger and more important geography seems new.
 
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Epigraph
In August of 1939, General Ioannis Metaxas,
the prime minister of Greece, told a Romanian
diplomat "that the old Europe would end when
the swastika flew over the Acropolis."
Dedication
First words
In autumn, the rains came to Macedonia.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Greece, 1940: In the ancient port of Salonika, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being played out. On the northern border, the Greek army has blocked Mussolini's invasion, pushing his divisions back to Albania -- the first defeat for an ally of the Nazis, who have conquered most of Europe. But Adolf Hitler will not tolerate such defiance: in the spring he will invade the Balkans, and the people of Salonika can only watch and wait. At the center of this drama is Constantine "Costa" Zannis, a senior police official. Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to fight back against the world's evil.
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As war approaches northern Greece, the spies begin to circle--from the Turkish legation to the German secret service. In the ancient port of Salonika, Costa Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special "political" cases, risks everything to secure an escape route for those hunted by the Gestapo.… (more)

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