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Spies of the Balkans

Spies of the Balkans

3.7 78
by Alan Furst

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Greece, 1940. In the port city of Salonika, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being played out. As Adolf Hitler plans to invade the Balkans, spies begin to circle—and Costa Zannis, a senior police official, must deal with them all. He is soon in the game, working to secure an escape route for fugitives


Greece, 1940. In the port city of Salonika, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being played out. As Adolf Hitler plans to invade the Balkans, spies begin to circle—and Costa Zannis, a senior police official, must deal with them all. He is soon in the game, working to secure an escape route for fugitives from Nazi Berlin that is 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 shipping magnate. With extraordinary historical detail and a superb cast of characters, Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to fight back against the world’s evil.

Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
In 1939 Greece's prime minister, Gen. Ioannis Metaxas, said that "the old Europe would end when the swastika flew over the Acropolis." The Nazi flag did not rise over the Acropolis until April 1941. Spies of the Balkans is about the time in between, when people like Zannis were forced to get their bearings in an increasingly hostile world and to become rescuers to those fleeing more perilous places. Mr. Furst's gift for exquisite calibration transports the reader back to a realm where characters like Zannis could determine the limits of their authority only by testing it to the extreme.
—The New York Times
Patrick Anderson
I read my first Alan Furst novel nine years ago and urged Book World's readers to do themselves a favor and seek out everything this talented writer had in print. Now, having read Furst's 11th and latest novel, Spies of the Balkans, I find that my advice holds. About all that has changed since 2001 is that Furst was relatively unknown then, and today he is widely recognized as one of the finest spy novelists active.
—The Washington Post
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)
From the Publisher
“Unfolds like a vivid dream . . . One couldn’t ask for a more engrossing novel.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Impeccable historical fiction . . . intelligent [and] entertaining.”—Los Angeles Times

“Furst vividly [mixes] love and adventure. . . . His books combine exhaustive research with exceptional narrative skill.”—The Washington Post

“Brilliant . . . told with unusual detail and flair.”—Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio

Los Angeles Times • The Seattle Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • The Globe and Mail

Library Journal
In his intense yet subtle way, Furst (The Spies of Warsaw) takes readers to the Greek city of Salonika (now more commonly known as Thessaloniki) in October 1940, just months before the Germans hoist their occupying flag on the Acropolis the following April. Senior police official Costa Zannis, calm yet passionate in his lusty body and loyal soul, has insinuating ways that lead him to deep and sensitive knowledge that others covet. Just as Fascist Italy starts its attack on Greece, Zannis begins working with confederates in other Balkan cities to shepherd escaping German Jews to safety in Turkey until time runs out for them all. VERDICT With ten novels behind him, Furst has perfected a historical espionage genre that illuminates an ordinary man whom fate has picked for quiet heroism. Furst fans will argue about their favorite books, but the Balkan twists and turns in this masterly triumph of plotting, history, and character development will be a hit this summer. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/10.]—Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA
Kirkus Reviews
As the Nazi invasion threat looms in Greece, a detective undertakes various secret missions in this latest from the master of European spy fiction. Furst's 11th novel (The Spies of Warsaw, 2008, etc.) covers the six months between October 1940 and April 1941, when German troops occupied Athens, and is set mostly in the port city of Salonika, an embarkation point for neutral Turkey. Though Greece is ruled by the dictator Metaxas, the Salonika cops have a live-and-let live attitude, personified by their deputy commander, Costa Zannis, Furst's protagonist. The tough but likable Zannis is a Mr. Fix-It with a wide-ranging portfolio. The city is on edge with rumors about German intentions; in an early sequence, Zannis runs a German spy to ground in a warehouse. A bachelor and a ladies man, Zannis's current girlfriend is Roxanne, an English ballet teacher, but naturally he's happy to oblige the "stunning" Emilia Krebs, the Jewish wife of a Wehrmacht officer, who's trying to arrange an escape route for other German Jews. After Mussolini, without Hitler's approval, invades Greece but stumbles, her project advances; Zannis, in the mountains, recruits the anti-Nazi Pavlic, his opposite number in Zagreb. His subsequent trip to Budapest secures another part of Emilia's pipeline. In Salonika, Zannis has a new love interest, exchanging Roxanne (a self-revealed British spy) for Demetria, gorgeous wife of a superrich banker. His attempts to free her from her gilded cage are interrupted by two more missions, these at the behest of the Brits. (Who can refuse Greece's oldest ally?) The first takes him to Paris, to spirit away a top British asset, and the second to Yugoslavia, to assist an anti-German coup d'etat, but these episodes have no cumulative effect, and Zannis's role as a stand-tall hero is undercut twice; in France it's an unidentified deus ex machina who saves the day, while in Yugoslavia he's a bit player. There's a scattershot quality to this Balkan imbroglio that leaves it a few notches below Furst's best work. Author tour to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Agent: Amanda Urban/ICM

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Random House Publishing Group
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Meet the Author

Alan Furst is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. Now translated into seventeen languages, he is the bestselling author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, Blood of Victory, Dark Voyage, and The Foreign Correspondent Born in New York, he now lives in Paris and on Long Island.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Sag Harbor, New York
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., Oberlin College

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Spies of the Balkans 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 78 reviews.
CBH More than 1 year ago
I had always like the books of Alan Furst but this one threw me for a loop! Maybe it was me not being able to get into this story but, with my love and interest in books from this period before, during, and after WWII, I figured I would fall right into this spy book and enjoy it thoroughly. Instead, I "waffled" my way through this read. I knew the time, the location, and the events at the time, so I tried very hard to gather all the events together and assimilate them in my mind. I am sure many will enjoy this book and I hope Alan Furst will forgive me for not being a huge fan of his latest book. I read and review many books and very rarely give a negative opinion in any review. So bear with me so you will understand the story and then decide that you DO want to read it. The story takes place mainly in Greece before the Germans have overtaken Greece and the surrounding nations, although they were pressing onward to so do. The main person in the book is a senior police official, Costa Zannis, who is valiantly working behind the scenes to liberate those endangered by the Nazi's by getting them to a safe country in any way possible. Modes used were cars or trucks, train, airplane, ship or boat, or merely walking across open land to cross borders to achieve some safety. Zannis and those that worked with him had to be very careful since they hoped that those involved in assisting getting those individuals or families to a safer place could not always be trusted. Eventually Zannis was told he was a captain in the military of Greece but he mainly stayed in his own locale doing his thing helping others escape. He also had some lovers, some from other times and some new, that made him wish they were in other times but he did what he could to help others and keep a few he loved closer to him through letters when possible or in person, which was becoming more rare. Zannis traveled much by various means to reach those needing help to get to a safe place, travel that always brought more danger into his life. He even had contacts to get papers for those he assisted when they needed them. He was highly thought of by most, even some that were on the fence of their thinking with the major change coming to the area. Everyone knew what had occurred in the areas Germany had already overrun but they hoped and prayed that they would not suffer the same results in their area. If you can keep events and people together you will no doubt enjoy this book. I think it must be me that had the problem. The subject is told in action as it occurred and where it occurred.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Spies of the Balkans was okay. I am still a big fan of Furst. I hate to be critical. If you liked his prior books than this will be an okay read for you. I enjoyed the genre, the locations, and the era, was slightly disappointed in the plot and characters. Hope that the next one is better, I will buy it too, I am a loyal fan of Furst.
luckyX3 More than 1 year ago
In a recent radio interview, Alan Furst claimed that he wasn't bored by his chosen slice of history, but after his last few novels, one wonders. Spies of Warsaw reads more like an exploratory draft than a full-fledged novel. The perils are cursory, the outcome never really in doubt. The main character seems more like a daydream imagining of what Furst would like to have been than a real person. As with the previous, and equally lame, Spies of Warsaw, the short length, and short shrift given to espionage and thrills, make this seem more like a historical bodice-ripper than a spy novel. And the Rasputin-like reappearance of the Brasserie Henninger, which features in every one of Furst's novels, is by now a played out caricature that I could do without. Its turn here is especially contrived: the British secret service strong-arms the hero, a Greek police official, into going to Paris to rescue a British mathematician who somehow winds up as a tail-gunner on a Brit bomber that gets shot down. And of course no trip to Paris is complete without a stop at the Henninger, and yet another recounting of the bullet hole in the mirror. Seriously. Twice was cute, three times funny, but seven times? Enough already. Furst needs a change of scenery, or a good long sabbatical, because he's rapidly descending into schlock.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outstandjng - story really moves along
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Just fabulous!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alan Furst continues his high quality fiction. A great balance between pace and detail. Makes you feel as though you are there but does not get bogged down in details. Spies of the Balkans covers a part of WWII not often mentioned in fiction or non-fiction. I always look forward to his books and have never been disappointed, and I have read all his work.
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jbaylen More than 1 year ago
Spies of the Balkans is another of Furst’s spy stories that draws the reader into the world of the early 1940s. His characters are interesting and believable. They do what is necessary to save lives as the Third Reich expands into the Balkans. I you liked Furst’s other books such as Dark Star and the Polish Officer, you’ll enjoy this one.
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JereG More than 1 year ago
Furst at his best.
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Martin Taschdjian More than 1 year ago
Trying to do right while ordered to do wrong, our hero is trapped between his official police duties, the impending invasion of Greece, his love for his corrupt boss's wife and normal crime fighting. Good read with a bit of period phrasing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago