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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel by Alan Furst
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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Alan Furst

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8013216,495 (3.81)66
Member:adamtyoung
Title:Spies of the Balkans: A Novel
Authors:Alan Furst
Info:Random House (2010), Edition: First Edition, First Printing, Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
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Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst (2010)

  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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» See also 66 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
My first Furst book, and it won't be the last. A page-turner with the plot set during World War II. Unlike a lot of books in this setting, it is set in Greece, which had yet to be invaded by Germany. Furst impresses with his use of language, especially the use of precise vocabulary which allows you to visualise the scene as it is. However, Zannis' love affair with the wife of the richest man in town was rather contrived. It does not come across as convincing that the wife idolised Zannis when they were in school (of course without Zannis knowing), which was used to explain why she so easily fell passionately in love with him, after meeting him in a chance encounter years later. ( )
  siok | Aug 9, 2017 |
This is my second Furst, after The Foreign Correspondent, and I'm still not entirely sure what to make of him. He can write, that much is obvious, but there's a curious lack of immersiveness when reading his works that might be partly stylistic and partly structural.

Like The Foreign Correspondent there's very little plot to speak of; characters come and go, events occur, some things get resolved, some don't. It might be true to life but it doesn't make for a particularly gripping narrative. Furst also seems to have no compunctions in building up a scene or crisis point and then doing absolutely nothing with it.

Case in point, the main character, a hard nosed detective named Costa Zannis, is roped into a cross-national operation to help smuggle Jews out of Nazi occupied Germany. All the while pressure is mounting across Europe, people are going missing; the operation is becoming increasingly dangerous to maintain. To compound matters, a general in the SS catches wind of what's going down and takes steps to terminate it.

So what does Furst do with this compelling material? Nothing at all. Everything just peters out and gets forgotten about. Zannis, barring an oddly tacked on sideplot set in Paris involving the retrieval of a missing British scientist, is never really under threat the entire novel. Oh, threats are talked about, and talked about some more, but everything happens at a remove.

Maybe I'm a bit too much of a traditionalist to enjoy these books, or perhaps I'm just missing the point. But it's clear that the author is at least passingly aware of the conventions of the genre and the need to fulfil them. The novel opens with a chase scene set in a factory at night, ending with a death. Why put this in if it isn't going to set the tone to follow? And the aforementioned scene in Paris, while genuinely exciting, feels tacked on and gratuitous. There's a sense throughout of the author wanting to have his cake and eat it, wanting to appeal to two crowds simultaneously and not quite getting it right.

I'm aware that neither Spies nor Foreign Correspondent are anywhere near Furst's best books, but if this is the formula on which his earlier books are also set then I'm not sure if I'm going to enjoy them half as much as I had hoped.

Next up: The Polish Officer
( )
  StuartNorth | Nov 19, 2016 |
This is my second Furst, after The Foreign Correspondent, and I'm still not entirely sure what to make of him. He can write, that much is obvious, but there's a curious lack of immersiveness when reading his works that might be partly stylistic and partly structural.

Like The Foreign Correspondent there's very little plot to speak of; characters come and go, events occur, some things get resolved, some don't. It might be true to life but it doesn't make for a particularly gripping narrative. Furst also seems to have no compunctions in building up a scene or crisis point and then doing absolutely nothing with it.

Case in point, the main character, a hard nosed detective named Costa Zannis, is roped into a cross-national operation to help smuggle Jews out of Nazi occupied Germany. All the while pressure is mounting across Europe, people are going missing; the operation is becoming increasingly dangerous to maintain. To compound matters, a general in the SS catches wind of what's going down and takes steps to terminate it.

So what does Furst do with this compelling material? Nothing at all. Everything just peters out and gets forgotten about. Zannis, barring an oddly tacked on sideplot set in Paris involving the retrieval of a missing British scientist, is never really under threat the entire novel. Oh, threats are talked about, and talked about some more, but everything happens at a remove.

Maybe I'm a bit too much of a traditionalist to enjoy these books, or perhaps I'm just missing the point. But it's clear that the author is at least passingly aware of the conventions of the genre and the need to fulfil them. The novel opens with a chase scene set in a factory at night, ending with a death. Why put this in if it isn't going to set the tone to follow? And the aforementioned scene in Paris, while genuinely exciting, feels tacked on and gratuitous. There's a sense throughout of the author wanting to have his cake and eat it, wanting to appeal to two crowds simultaneously and not quite getting it right.

I'm aware that neither Spies nor Foreign Correspondent are anywhere near Furst's best books, but if this is the formula on which his earlier books are also set then I'm not sure if I'm going to enjoy them half as much as I had hoped.

Next up: The Polish Officer
( )
  StuartNorth | Nov 19, 2016 |
Alan Furst is the master of the historical spy novel, particularly the era just before World War II erupts. In Spies of the Balkans, he takes on, well, the Balkans.

Spies of the Balkans, by Alan Furst

Costa Zannis is a Greek policeman, with his finger on the pulse of the underground in the port city of Salonika, Greece. Soon he’s in a romance, and involved with spies. With the German Army marshalling on the border, ….Alan Furst does his thing. Which is showing you the looming menace of Germany and the wholesale destruction of WWII, in an historically and geographically accurate way. Always good fun.

I’ve actually met Mr. Furst at a book signing. He’s polite, self-effacing, and incredibly knowledgeable about this era of history. Do yourself and him a favor and buy this book. ( )
  viking2917 | Dec 23, 2015 |
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. ( )
2 vote Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (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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Book description
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)

(summary from another edition)

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