Spies of the Balkans

( 78 )


“Furst’s books are like Chopin’s nocturnes: timeless, transcendent, universal.

One does not so much read them as fall under their spell.”

—Los Angeles Times, on The Spies of Warsaw

Greece, 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece—the city of Salonika. In that ancient port, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being...

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Spies of the Balkans

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“Furst’s books are like Chopin’s nocturnes: timeless, transcendent, universal.

One does not so much read them as fall under their spell.”

—Los Angeles Times, on The Spies of Warsaw

Greece, 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece—the city of Salonika. In that ancient port, 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, head of an office that handles special “political” cases. As war approaches, the spies begin to circle, from the Turkish legation, from the German secret service, a travel writer sent by the British, and others—from Bulgaria? From Italy? Nobody knows. But 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.

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 fight back against the world’s evil.

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  • Spies of the Balkans
    Spies of the Balkans  

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 - Library Journal Audio
It is 1940, and Greece is on the brink of Nazi invasion. Constantine "Costa" Zannis finds that his job as a senior police official in the northern port city of Salonika offers unique tools enabling him to assist a grass-roots effort to smuggle Jews out of Germany. As the war moves closer to Greece, the danger of getting discovered by the Gestapo grows exponentially. Author Furst (alanfurst.net)—whose preceding novel, The Spies of Warsaw (2008), is also available from Recorded Books/S. & S. Audio—is masterful here at building characters, crafting dilemmas, creating suspense and excitement, and leaving the exact outcome uncertain. Engagingly read by actor Daniel Gerroll, this audio is an excellent choice for anyone enjoying spy stories. [The New York Timesbest-selling Random hc also received a starred review, LJ 5/15/10.—Ed.]—Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
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

  • ISBN-13: 9781442306059
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Publication date: 6/15/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 8
  • Sales rank: 1,005,537
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 6.04 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Furst

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.


Alan Furst may have the narrowest purview in literature. His books – which he calls historical espionage novels -- are all set in Europe between 1933 and 1945, and all are stories of World War II intrigue.

But that brief eight-year period in history has given Furst a rich amount of source material; although he had published a handful of earlier novels (now out of print, some of them fetch hundreds of dollars) Furst hit his stride with 1988’s Night Soldiers , his first book to concentrate on the decade that would forever change the world. Furst had found his niche. As Salon rhapsodized in a 2001 review, "...to talk about one of his books is to talk about them all. He is writing one large book in which each new entry adds a piece to the mosaic of Europe in the years leading up to the war, as created by a partisan of the senses."

Furst's books are grounded in their author’s extensive research of the period, and are written in an almost newsy prose broken occasionally by beautiful, lyrical passages describing, say, a Paris morning in the 1940s, or night at the Czechoslavakian-Hungarian border. History buffs will find much to love here; while the books are fiction, some of the details are factual. In Night Soldiers, for example, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island exchanged their clothing for new outfits; in reality, the American government often bought clothing from immigrants to use as costumes for its spies.

And while Furst’s novels are entertaining and, often, elegant, they are not easy reads: the books traverse through a wide swath of Europe (an important character itself in Furst’s fiction), and characters duck behind corners and sometimes stumble into the continent’s more remote regions (while not partying in Paris, that is). Though his male protagonists manage to find and sometimes lose lovers, Furst’s books are primarily concerned with the moral slipperiness involved in fighting off Hitler's advance, where even the best intentions could produce regrettable results.

Furst's books have grown leaner and tauter over the years, the result of a conscious effort "to say more by saying less." Notwithstanding this paring back, or perhaps because of it, the praise for his books only seems to multiply, and Furst’s writing has lost none of its veracity or suspense. Furst, who many critics consider literature’s best-kept secret, may not be a household name yet, but with such buzz, his low profile won’t last much longer.

Good To Know

Night Soldiers originated from a piece Furst wrote for Esquire in 1983. He was also a reporter for the International Herald Tribune and wrote a biography of cookie entrepeneur Debbie Fields.

Furst wrote in a 2002 essay, "For me, Anthony Powell is a religion. I read A Dance to the Music of Time every few years."

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    1. Hometown:
      Sag Harbor, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Oberlin College

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 78 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Helping escape of those fearing Nazi tyranny

    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.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 25, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Brasserie Henninger, Again!

    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.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2010

    waited so long for this book, would have waited longer if book was better

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2012

    Terric read

    Outstandjng - story really moves along

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2014


    Just fabulous!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    Highly recommended - one of the best around

    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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  • Posted January 31, 2012

    Excellent Spy Story

    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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  • Posted June 25, 2011

    Excellent historical spy fiction

    Furst at his best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2011

    like a memoir

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2010

    One of the best!!!

    Mr. Furst has cranked out a great one. This in my opinion is one of his better stories! Keep up the great work!!!!!!!

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