Spies of the Balkans

Spies of the Balkans

3.7 78
by Alan Furst

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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,…  See more details below


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.

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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 TimesThe Seattle TimesSt. Louis Post-Dispatch
Milwaukee Journal SentinelThe 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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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
7.84(w) x 5.28(h) x 0.64(d)

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.

Brief Biography

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

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