Novel: Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

After months of considerable control, I finally broke down and read the final Alan Furst novel on my shelf, Spies of the Balkans (2010). Is it more of the same in Furst’s familiar milieu? Yes. Is it still awesome? Absolutely.

As in other recent Furst books, this one is on a somewhat smaller scale than some of his earlier epics, focusing specifically on the plight of Greece in its involvement in World War II. The protagonist, Constantine Zannis, is a police detective in Salonika, in charge of handling highly sensitive political cases, a job that uniquely positions him to confront the coming storms of Axis aggression. Partly by chance, partly by temperament, Zannis gradually becomes a key figure in the building of a spy network across the Balkans: an “escape line” from Berlin to Salonika assisting German Jews in their flight from the brutal Nazi regime, across the politically charged nations of central Europe. His nascent espionage career is briefly interrupted by military service in defense of the country against Italian invasion, but ultimately he becomes a key figure in the Greek resistance.

Along the way, of course, the intrigue is peppered with wartime camaraderie, romance-under-fire, and bursts of suspenseful action, all laced with Furst’s trademark lush description and historical detail. While the focus is squarely on Greece, Furst also contrives to move the action across Europe — through Paris, as usual, as well as Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia. In the end Spies of the Balkans is true to the Furst formula, then, but spins the material just so, resulting in another engrossing perspective on wartime espionage in the Second World War. If you haven’t guessed by now, I can’t get enough of this stuff; Spies of the Balkans is another worthy addition to the author’s body of work.

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