Spies of the Balkans

Spies of the Balkans

by Alan Furst


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812977387
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/14/2011
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 232,553
Product dimensions: 7.84(w) x 5.28(h) x 0.64(d)

About 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.


Sag Harbor, New York

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Oberlin College

Read an Excerpt

The storm began in the north—on the fifth day of October in the year 1940—where sullen cloud lay over the mountain villages on the border of Bulgaria and Greece. By midday it had drifted south, heavier now, rolling down the valley of the Vardar River until, at dusk, it reached the heights of the city of Salonika and, by the time the streetlamps came on, rain dripped from the roof tiles in the ancient alleyways of the port and dappled the surface of the flat, dark sea.
Just after six in the evening, Costa Zannis, known to the city as a senior police official—whatever that meant, perhaps no more than a suit instead of a uniform—left his office on the top floor of an anonymous building on the Via Egnatia, walked down five flights of creaky wooden stairs, stepped out into the street, and snapped his umbrella aloft. Earlier that day he’d had a telephone call from the port captain, something to do with the arrival of the Turkish tramp freighter Bakir—“an irregularity” was the phrase the captain used, adding that he preferred to pursue the matter in person. “You understand me, Costa,” he’d said. Oh yes, Zannis understood all too well. At that moment, Greece had been ruled by the Metaxas dictatorship since 1936—the length of women’s skirts was regulated; it was forbidden to read aloud the funeral oration of Pericles—and people were cautious about what they said on the telephone. And, with much of Europe occupied by Nazi Germany, and Mussolini’s armies in Albania, on the Greek frontier, one wasn’t sure what came next. So, don’t trust the telephone. Or the newspapers. Or the radio. Or tomorrow.
Entering the vast street market on Aristotle Square, Zannis furled his umbrella and worked his way through the narrow aisles. Rain pattered on the tin roofing above the stalls, fishmongers shouted to the crowd, and, as Zannis passed by, the merchants smiled or nodded or avoided his eyes, depending on where they thought they stood with the Salonika police that evening. A skeletal old woman from the countryside, black dress, black head scarf, offered him a dried fig. He smiled politely and declined, but she thrust it toward him, the mock ferocity of her expression meaning that he had no choice. He tore the stem off, flicked it into the gutter, then ate the fig, which was fat and sweet, raised his eyebrows in appreciation, said, “It’s very good, thank you,” and went on his way. At the far end of the market, a sponge peddler, a huge sack slung over his shoulder, peered anxiously out at the rain. Marooned, he could only wait, for if his sponges got wet he’d have to carry the weight for the rest of the night.
The customshouse stood at the center of the city’s two main piers, its function stated on a broad sign above the main entry, first in Greek, then with the word Douane. On the upper floor, the port captain occupied a corner office, the sort of office that had over the years become a home; warm in the chilly weather, the still air scented with wood smoke and cigarettes, one of the port cats asleep by the woodstove. On the wall behind the desk hung a brightly colored oleograph of Archbishop Alexandros, in long black beard and hair flowing to his shoulders, hands clasped piously across his ample stomach. By his side, formal photographs of a stern General Metaxas and a succession of port officials of the past, two of them, in fading sepia prints, wearing the Turkish fez. On the adjoining wall, handsomely framed, were the wife and children of the present occupant, well fed, dressed to the hilt, and looking very dignified.
The present occupant was in no hurry; a brief call on the telephone produced, in a few minutes, a waiter from a nearby kafeneion—coffeehouse—with two tiny cups of Turkish coffee on a brass tray. After a sip, the captain lit a cigarette and said, “I hope I didn’t get you down here for nothing, Costa. In such miserable fucking weather.”
Zannis didn’t mind. “It’s always good to see you,” he said. “The Bakir, I think you said. Where’s she berthed?”
“Number eight, on the left-hand side. Just behind a Dutch grain freighter—a German grain freighter now, I guess.”
“For the time being,” Zannis said.
They paused briefly to savor the good things the future might hold, then the captain said, “Bakir docked this morning. I waited an hour, the captain never showed up, so I went to find him. Nothing unusual, gangplank down, nobody about, so I went on board and headed for the captain’s office, which is pretty much always in the same place, just by the bridge. A few sailors at work, but it was quiet on board, and going down the passageway toward the bridge I passed the wardroom. Two officers, gossiping in Turkish and drinking coffee, and a little man in a suit, with shiny shoes, reading a newspaper. German newspaper. Oh, I thought, a passenger.”
“See his face?”
“Actually I didn’t. He was behind his newspaper—Völkischer Beobachter? I believe it was. Anyhow, I didn’t think much about it. People get around these days any way they can, and they don’t go anywhere at all unless they have to.”
The captain nodded. “You may just have to swim. Eventually I found the captain up on the bridge—a man I’ve known for years, by the way—and we went back to his office so I could have a look at the manifest. But—no passenger. So, I asked. ‘Who’s the gent in the wardroom?’ The captain just looked at me. What a look!”
“Meaning …?”
“Meaning Don’t ask me that. Life’s hard enough these days without this sort of nonsense.”
Zannis’s smile was ironic. “Oh dear,” he said.
The captain laughed, relieved. “Don’t be concerned, you mean.”
From Zannis, a small sigh. “No, but it’s me who has to be concerned. On the other hand, as long as he stays where he is … What’s she carrying?”
“In ballast. She’s here to load baled tobacco, then headed up to Hamburg.”
“You didn’t happen to see the passenger come this way, did you?”
“No, he hasn’t left the ship.”
Zannis raised an eyebrow. “You’re sure?”
“I’ve had a taxi waiting out there all afternoon. If he tries to enter the city, two beeps on the horn.”
This time the sigh was deeper, because Zannis’s plans for the evening had vanished into the night. “I’ll use your telephone,” he said. “And then I’ll take a little walk.”
Zannis walked past the taxi on the pier—the driver awake, to his surprise—then continued until he could see the Bakir. Nothing unusual; a rust-streaked gray hull, a cook tossing a pail of kitchen garbage into the bay. He’d thought about ordering up a pair of detectives, then decided not to get them out in the rain. But now the rain had stopped, leaving in its place a heavy mist that made halos around the streetlamps. Zannis stood there, the city behind him quiet, a foghorn moaning somewhere out in the darkness.
He’d turned forty that summer, not a welcome event but what could you do. He was of average height, with a thick muscular body and only an inch of belly above his belt. Skin a pale olive color, not bad-looking at all though more boxer than movie star, a tough guy, in the way he moved, in the way he held himself. Until you looked at his face, which suggested quite a different sort of person. Wide generous mouth and, behind steel-framed eyeglasses, very blue eyes: lively eyes. He had dry black hair which, despite being combed with water in the morning, was tousled by the time he reached the office and fell down on his forehead and made him look younger, and softer, than he was. All in all, an expressive face, rarely still—when you spoke to him you could always see what he thought about whatever you said, amusement or sympathy or curiosity, but always something. So, maybe a tough guy, but your friend the tough guy. The policeman. And, in his black suit and soft gray shirt, tie knot always pulled down and the collar button of the shirt open, a rather gentle version of the breed. On purpose, of course.
He’d certainly never meant to be a cop. And—once he fell into being a cop—never a detective, and—once promoted to that position—never what he was now. He’d never even known such a job existed. Neither of his parents had been educated beyond the first six years; his grandmother could neither read nor write, his mother doing so only with difficulty. His father had worked his way into half ownership of a florist shop in the good part of Salonika, so the family was never poor; they managed, pretty much like everyone else he knew. Zannis wasn’t much of a student, which didn’t matter because in time he’d work in the shop. And, until 1912, Salonika had remained a part of the Ottoman Empire—Athens and the western part of the nation having fought free of the Turks in 1832—so to be Greek was to know your place and the sort of ambition that drew attention wasn’t such a good idea.

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Spies of the Balkans 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 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
velopunk on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I find the time between September, 1939 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union extremely interesting. Nobody writes fiction about it better than Alan Furst. The main character of Spies of the Balkans is a Greek police detective who manages to help fashion an escape route from Berlin to Hungary down through the Balkans to the Greek city of Salonika where refugees may be sent on to Turkey or British Egypt.What a great read. I hope Furst continues to mine this vein.
kylenapoli on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Well written, of course, but episodic. Gives me the feeling that Furst will soon be writing short stories rather than novels. Maybe eventually haiku?
KLTMD on LibraryThing 5 months ago
One of the best of the series, a throwback to earlier books. You are immersed in blue smoke of a gauloise, listening to music by Django Rheinhart, and hearing the story of the Brassiere Heineger in Paris. His heroes are every day me, though more successful with women than the men I know, they are called upon to do the right thing in situations which broke most around them. The great race between fascism and communism between the wars is ever present and made chillingly real. Read this book for the little known role of Salonika. Read this book for its portrait of a by-gone world. Read this book for a damn good story.
RichMaguire on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Wonderful read!! What courage these ordinary folks(spies) had!!
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Very enjoyable story of intrigue during the Second World War. I have not read any Furst before this book, but I plan to now.
Chris469 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Good adventure/spy novel. Set in the six-month time period of October 1940 to early April 1941 during World War II. The main character is a Greek detective of police in Salonika, in northern Greece. Most of the action is in Salonika, but the tale also takes the reader to Budapest, Paris, Berlin, Belgrade, and Turkish tramp steamers bound for Alexandria. There are guns, girls, gangsters, Nazi bad guys, and lots of cloak and dagger. It helps that it is pretty well-written. It has its moments of titillating romance along with the usual spy novel action, but on another level it is more generally a depressing reminder of the anxieties and dangers of day-to-day life in a Europe then dominated by Hitlerism. A good read (or unabridged audio book in this case.)
berthirsch on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A suspense book that takes place in Salonika, Greece on the cusp of the Nazi invasion of the Balkans in 1941.Furst is a masterful writer who has created an unforgettable character, Costa Zannis , a police inspector and insider. He is a brave, inventive strong willed and strong armed individual. He is also a talented lover who falls in with English spies and a wealthy jewish heiress in Berlin, setting up an underground escape route for German jews.This is a most satisfying tale, well paced and suspenceful.
cameling on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Greece in the early 1940s kept her wary eye on Hitler's advances through parts of Europe. Mussolini, attempting to replicate Hitler's success, decides to invade Greece, but is repelled by the Greek army. But Salonika waits for the inevitable invasion by Hitler's army and secret service.In these uncertain times, spies with different international concerns blend into Salonika society, some catching the eye of Costa Zannis, a police inspector known for his integrity, and one with a special team, working on cases that may require discretion. As the situation for Jews in Germany worsens, he gets involved in an underground movement to rescue Jews fleeing Germany, developing a system with a Jewish wife of a high ranking German officer, and another police official in Zagreb, and helping them escape to Turkey and Egypt. If that wasn't sufficiently stressful, the British secret service seek his assistance in rescuing a British scientist who managed to get himself shot down over occupied France, and bring him back to England. As the situation in Salonika deteriorates, even his own window of opportunity to get his family and lover to leave for safer shores becomes narrower.This is not merely a good spy thriller, it is also an excellent study in characters who believe in doing what's necessary to save humanity, even if it means putting their own lives at risk.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was excited to read about an area of the world I didn't know much about. The number of characters who made an appearance were at times confusing to follow. I don't expect novels, especially spy novels, to tie things up in a neat bow but this novel was difficult to follow. I will try another one of his books.
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Just fabulous!
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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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