Spies of the Balkans
A NovelBook - 2010
Greece, 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece--the city of Salonika. In that ancient port, with its wharves and warehouses, dark lanes and Turkish mansions, brothels and tavernas, 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 suffered by the Nazis, who have conquered most of Europe. But Adolf Hitler cannot tolerate such freedom; the invasion is coming, it's only a matter of time, and the people of Salonika can only watch and wait.
At the center of this drama is Costa Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special "political" cases. As war approaches, the spies begin to circle, from the Turkish legation to the German secret service. There's a British travel writer, a Bulgarian undertaker, and more. Costa Zannis must deal with them all. And he is soon in the game, securing an escape route--from Berlin to Salonika, and then to a tenuous safety in Turkey, a route protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives, and Hungarian gangsters. And hunted by the Gestapo.
Meanwhile, as war threatens, the erotic life of the city grows passionate. For Zannis, that means a British expatriate who owns the local ballet academy, a woman from the dark side of Salonika society, and the wife of a local shipping magnate.
Declared "an incomparable expert at his game" by The New York Times , Alan Furst outdoes even his own finest novels in this thrilling new book. With extraordinary authenticity, a superb cast of characters, and heart-stopping tension as it moves from Salonika to Paris to Berlin and back, Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to right--in many small ways--the world's evil.
From the critics
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Costa Zannis is a man who loves his job and his country. A detective on the police force in Salonika, Greece in 1940, he has access to major society players from the lowest of the low to the most powerful public figures. Thus, as WWII threatens to sweep down through the Balkans, he's privy to much disturbing information on the Nazi movement south and east, as well as the machinations of Mussolini in Italy.<br />
As the Nazi machine grinds south, his connections help him operate a rescue ring for Jews fleeing occupied nations. This is where the intrigue in *Spies of the Balkans* really takes flight – author Alan Furst exhaustively researched the diplomatic and physical battles that drove the Nazi occupation into the Balkans. His research feeds a furiously paced romp through Europe as Zannis fights to save the lives of his family, friends, and fleeing Jews, ultimately growing entangled in plots to rescue entire nations. Meanwhile, Zannis is captivated by a glacially beautiful woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a tyrannical senior Greek bureaucrat. Will his strict moral code allow him to do what he needs to save as many as he can? With the Gestapo on his tail for murder, will his transgressions so far cost him his life?<br />
Loaded with plot and politics, it could be argued that the character development is a little light in *Spies of the Balkans*. That, however, would be missing the point of the novel. Zannis is a gloriously gritty pulp fiction detective in the tradition of Sam Spade, surrounded by the same femmes fatale characters. No one is supposed to learn and grow, there's no time for that – *Spies of the Balkans* is a relentless romp, a wild ride through the race to evade the Nazis. Pour yourself a highball, put up your feet and turn the blinds – Furst's *Spies of the Balkans* won't let you go until it's all over.
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