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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another masterly evocation of WW2 espionage
Alan Furst's elegantly-written novels about spies in World War II have become must-have acquisitions and Spies of the Balkans was no disappointment.

We find ourselves in Salonika in 1940, with Greece wondering if (when?) the Germans are going to invade. Costa Zannis is a former detective who now handles political cases, mingling with the international cast of...
Published on 18 July 2010 by A Common Reader

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spies of the Balkans
This is my first Alan Furst noval.I enjoyed the setting and period atmosphere but found the characters rather fleeting and saccharine,the plot complicated and the ending dissapiontedly predictable, otherwise O.K.
Published on 2 Aug 2010 by Theblurr


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best spy noir film you have never seen, 14 Mar 2012
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
Gosh - my first Furst! Why have I only discovered this author now?

Reading this author is like watching the best spy noir film you have never seen. You don't read this book you experience it.

The author's sense of time and place create one of the most convincing pre second World War settings I have ever read. As someone said no one captures the turbulence, ambivalence, chaos and turmoil of Europe in this era as well as Alan Furst. Against the background of the ominous approach of WW2 his very ordinary characters are trying to carry on with normal life but in reality are having to make extraordinary choices (moral/immoral)and life or death decisions in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia.

"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."

The story has a fatalistic feel of inevitability, and powerlessness as the Greeks wait for the invasion. When it, comes the story suddenly becomes a race against time as the main character strives to ensure the safety of his family and lover in the madness and panic that the advance of the Germans brings.

Highly recommended
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing novel 'noir' of espionage in pre-war Salonike., 27 Nov 2011
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
A wonderfuly evocative novel; which really conjures up Salonike of the late 1930s. I initially found the writing rather staccato in style but within no more then 50 pages I was engrossed. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the writing of Furst or Ryan.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reportage, 27 Mar 2011
By 
J. Lumsden (Pembroke) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
Again this book was one of those recommended by a tv book club and I thought I'd raise my reading levels above Rebus and Jack Reacher.
The story was interesting with lots of background that was new to me,but,and it's a big but,the characters never really came alive
as they should in a novel.Whether this was due to the dialogue or to the descriptive passages I'm not competent to judge but this
felt more like news reporting without the sense of immediacy.
Sorry! No more book club choices for me.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Rabbit, Another Hat, 27 Feb 2011
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This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
This is Alan Furst's eleventh novel, and one has to continue to admire him for being able to keep pulling essentially the same rabbit out of essentially the same hat. Indeed, his books are starting to feature the same minor characters and the same places, for no real reason, I think, other than to provide an in-joke for his faithful readers. His new book includes a long journey to Paris by the book's hero, Zannis, who just happens, as any Greek policeman would, to have spent his childhood there, to recover a downed Royal Air Force officer by about the most dangerous and complicated route anyone could have devised. The whole episode seems largely intended to take us, once more, to the Brasserie Heinneger, so that the story about the bullet-hole in the mirror can be told yet again.
By now, Furst's strengths and weaknesses are well known. He is good at the re-creation of historical atmosphere, and at creating believable characters who undergo real moral dilemmas. He is also able to present the business of espionage in an unusually convincing fashion. On the other hand, his plotting is often very loose, and many of his books are really just a set of related episodes loosely strung together. Like most Americans, he doesn't really understand politics in the ideological sense, rather than the practical sense, of the term. And his historical research can often be suspect. I can't speak for Greece, but in the space of two pages he commits two howlers in elementary French: a waiter refers to a "plateau de la mer", when it should be "plateau de fruits de mer", and on the next page the Germans are called the "Bosch', who, of course, was a sixteenth century Flemish painter. It's annoying that copy editors allow these things to slip through, and it makes you wonder what other errors are lurking in other parts of the book.
Time for a rethink, or even a fresh start ....
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 10 July 2010
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Hardcover)
Once again Alan Furst has created a memorable principal character set against a complex background of darkening skies as WW2 descends on the Balkans and Greece. Furst has admirable skills in expressing the desperation and powerlessness of most of those caught up in the prelude to war and how a few can effect the lives of so many.

I have now read all Fursts books and Spies of the Balkans is as good as any previous story.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Don't trust the telephone. Or the newspaper. Or the radio. Or tomorrow.", 18 Jun 2010
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Hardcover)
(3.5 stars) The fraught events in the Balkans leading to the occupation of Greece by the Nazis in April, 1941, form the structure of this complex novel, which begins in Greece and ranges through Albania, France, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Turkey, as small, vulnerable Eastern European countries try to stave off both the Italians and the Nazis. Alan Furst, famous for his carefully researched espionage thrillers about events from 1940 and 1941, recreates the confusions of the Balkan countries in early 1941, as they try to maintain their sovereignty against the Nazis' massive war machine. With different political systems, languages, and cultural sensibilities among the Balkan countries, their best chance for individual survival lies not within their own, often impotent, governments but within a loosely connected group of individuals from many European countries who may have access to information.

Forty-year-old Costa Zannis, a senior police official in the northern Greek city of Salonika, is in the middle of the conflict. The Italians, who have invaded nearby Albania, have been repulsed when they have tried to attack Greece, but Zannis knows that Germany will soon "rescue the dignity of her Italian partner" and invade with big guns. The immediate issues regarding Balkan governments alternate with issues regarding aid for the escaping Jews, and as Zannis walks the tightrope and does his part to aid people in Germany whose lives are in danger, his own life becomes even more complicated by his suddenly developed attraction to the wife of one of Greece's wealthiest men.

The novel, a chessboard of battle moves and countermoves, illustrates the interactions among the various players of Eastern European countries as they attempt to save the Balkans from German domination. Unfortunately, the lack of characterization for these players makes the reader less involved in the action than one would expect during times which might have changed the course of world history forever. Costa Zannis is a fine policeman, but the reader knows little about him, and it is not until the end of the novel that the reader learns anything about his large family in Salonica. No effort is made to illustrate the conflicts between Emilia Krebs, a Jew in Berlin, dedicated to helping other Jews escape Germany, and her seemingly sympathetic husband, who happens to be a career officer on the General Staff of the German Wehrmacht. Zannis's love for Demetria, the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Greece, is convenient for the plot and its need for romance, but not explained in terms of character development.

Furst's research into this period, as the Reich continues its march east, is fascinating, but the novel, overall, moves through so many countries with so many characters that readers become interested primarily in finding out how the author will ever resolve all these issues, rather than in understanding the big picture that underlies their activities. The book gives insights into the behavior of certain countries, but as a novel, The Spies of the Balkans does not stimulate the reader's emotional investment, a quality one expects in the best espionage fiction. Mary Whipple
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Latest Furst, 2 Dec 2010
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Hardcover)
I have just finished reading Spies of the Balkins by Alan Furst. I did not find it as good as his earlier work.
I also read Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy which I found much more rewarding.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent Furst story, 24 May 2013
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This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
The characters are so believable.
Those pre war years were really an eye opener in Europe.
I'll be sorry when I've read them all.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Furst, as always., 8 Sep 2011
By 
J. M. Flinn - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
This is another winner from Furst. The story grips you all the way. I could not put it down.
I trust he will never come to the end of his war. He always makes me live the situations, very very believable.
Wonderful full on tale. I believed it totally.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly evocative as ever - but it could lose the love interest, 4 April 2011
By 
davidT "Omnivore" (Hildesheim, Germany) - See all my reviews
There are many layers to society in wartime, and the sort of people who like the shadows thrive especially well at such times. Alan Furst specialises not in the broad sweep of troop movements across Europe; in his books World War II is just the backdrop, and the focus is on the men and women who slip between the cracks, and juggle what connections and influence they have to do what they need to do to survive. He doesn't go for the obvious - spies in London, Paris or Berlin for example - rather it's the small people in big cities, or minor officials in out-of-the-way places dealing with the war as it affects their lives.
So in this book, we have an ethnic Greek Macedonian police detective in Salonika, who almost against his will gets dragged into setting up the middle section of an escape route for Jews fleeing Berlin for the Near East. Partly as a result of this - and also through an English girlfriend who turns out to be not quite the simple ballet-school teacher she seemed - he then finds himself involved in getting a scientifically valuable crashed British airman back to Macedonia from Paris, to be handed over to the British.
In both of these situations, complex international networks are set up which are demolished immediately after they have served their purpose - each party gets out of it what they need for the moment, and at any time there can be a cooperation between lawmen, petty spivs and major criminals, with no embarrassing questions asked on any side. When Zannis flies back from Paris via Bulgaria with his airman for example - and this itself is a spur-of-the-moment arrangement set up through an uncle when the original plan fell through - it's clear that the main purpose of the flight is running large quantities of weapons and ammunition. From whom? Where to? We have (and he has) no idea, and it's much better not to know what other networks he might have inadvertently rubbed up against in transit.
It's a heady mix, and there's definitely a feeling of romance at all the subterfuge, but you're never far from the realisation that everyone is at all times risking their lives and sometimes those of their families. Not only their own carelessness, but somone else's convenience might lead to them beng traded to the enemy as a deal for information. Zannis himself finds he has to resist the temptation to pass on secret information in exchange for the otherwise ruinously expensive visas he needs for his fleeing Jews.
It might be this background of flickering allegiances and alliances which runs through the book which leads to my only minor point of dissatisfaction, where I didn't think the story quite gelled. This was the relationship that Zannis had with a married woman, in fact the wife of somone who inadvertently funds his escape line. Partly it's that I couldn't really see where the relationship came from - it's almost as if there's a chapter missing, since he sudenly seems utterly confident that he's going to have a relationship with a woman he's only glimpsed once - and also because the sincerity - genuineness? - of the relationship on both sides was so at odds with the atmosphere of all the rest of the book. I think I've read five of Alan Furst's books now, and they all brilliantly evoke the dark and dangerous byways that people find themselves having to travel in wartime, where everything is done by instinct, but I think this is the first one I've read which has had such a love affair. Call me an unromantic old misery, but I think it would have been perfect without it.
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Spies of the Balkans
Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst (Paperback - 6 Jan 2011)
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