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Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Spies of the Balkans (2010)

by Alan Furst

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6772814,123 (3.77)62
  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 (TomWaitsTables)

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Reading Alan Furst's Night Soldiers series is a bit like reading Patrick O'Brian. Furst's first (heh) was Night Soldiers, a massive epic of war and espionage, probably the best novel about spies in the Second World War you're likely to read. But in many ways it set the parameters for his subsequent works, while Red Gold set the template. None of the other books have been as epic - except inasmuch as anything touched by the Second World War is touched by the epic - tighter, briefer, sharper, more focused. Few of them go past 1941 or '42 in timeframe. At first this can seem disappointing and the books begin to seem samey and repetitive. But, like O'Brian, they are only samey and repetitive in terms of theme and format. The broad strokes of the War are, to us, predetermined. Within those strokes wind the lives of the men and women in the secret, murky world of espionage. Describing these lives is what Furst excels at, and he has perfected that style and format. If Night Soldiers was his Epic, these are his sonnets.

Our setting is Salonika, 1940. Our slightly shabby, vaguely disreputable, incurably romantic hero is Consta Zannis, a police officer responsible for peacefully resolving knotty political difficulties. He becomes involved in a secret route for Jews and dissidents fleeing Berlin. Time, of course, is running out, and the question is how long the route can be kept open, and whether it can survive the attentions of the British Secret Service.

Drenched in atmosphere, heroism and romanticism, with doom coming down on all sides and the shady, shadowy world of criminals and spies and secret lovers intermingling, this is thrilling, tragic, marvelous stuff. A kind of escapism, sure, but of such elegance and subtlety and the sense of intelligent people making small gestures in the face of unstoppable evil, it always leaves you wanting more. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
I usually don't read the spy novel genre that much. Furst was recommended so I picked this book up. It was a bit disappointing. From other reviews I have read, it is possible that this is one of his weaker books. The plot was very simplistic and very hard to believe. I could not understand the motivation of a Greek police detective wanting to get involved with the dangerous work of moving people out of Nazi Germany and on to Turkey. The relationships were simple with little depth. The plot had little dramatic tension but I did enjoy the historic element of this time prior to the US entering the was. I will do more research on Furst's other books before I read another of his novels. ( )
  nivramkoorb | Jun 22, 2015 |
This is yet another masterful novel set in the early years of the Second World War, by an author who has concentrated his writing in the period of the 1930s and 1940s. Once again, Furst captures the tense and febrile atmosphere of the times, with the action taking place mainly in northern Greece as the war approaches the country in 1940-1941. The main character is Costa Zannis, an ex-detective who now investigates possible political incidents for the authorities. Gradually, he becomes involved in opposing the Nazi forces ranged against his country as his contacts spread through the Balkans, to France and even to Germany.
  camharlow2 | Nov 27, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (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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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."
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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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