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Customer Review

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Solid Furst Thriller, 11 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Hardcover)
I've been reading Furst since his first book, and I'm thrilled that he's finally gotten around to setting something in my ancestral homeland (Greece). That said, he does have a very distinctive style that is definitely not to everyone's taste. His narratives tend to unfold in a somewhat fractured way, in vignettes that can sometimes skip large swathes of time and geography. His characters can often have a somewhat detached tone to them, which can make them somewhat less empathetic than your average spy/thriller protagonists. Personally, I feel no one does WWII atmosphere better, and I'm always glad to step back in time to a world that he's captured so wonderfully.

This book revolves around Constantine Zannis, a Greek police detective serving in Salonika (present-day Thessaloniki, historically, Greece's second-largest city). He works for a shadowy high-ranking police patron on "special" cases that involve more discretion and nuance than called for in common crimes. Although in 1940 the war has yet to reach Greece, it's clear that it's only a matter of time before it does, and the city is crawling with Allied and Axis spies. As the war creeps closer and closer to the border, we see him change roles, from policeman to spycatcher to activated reserve officer to Allied agent.

In these roles we first see Zannis get involved in an underground railroad helping Jews escape German-controlled territory into Turkey. This is handled very well, as we see all aspects of the operation, from the German enablers, their SS hunters, the scared couples on trains chugging through the Balkans, the palms that need to be greased at the Turkish border, etc. And when he gets trucked north to serve in a unit along the border, it brings home the human scale of the war in Europe. The biggest storyline involves British agents (which include a former girlfriend) convincing him to go to Paris and bring out a British scientist caught in the occupied city. But what might be the central high stakes premise in another writer's thriller is in Furst's war just another task to be grimly undertaken by a committed and principled man.

The one area in which this book stumbles is in some of Zannis' personal relationships, especially an insipid affair with the stunning wife of a shipping magnate. It comes out of nowhere and does nothing for the story except drag it kicking and screaming into the realm of conventional Hollywood blockbuster ("they found passion amidst the winds of war"). Fortunately, it's just a minor glitch, and there is none of the grand sweep and heft of typical spy thrillers. Furst is more of miniaturist, working in fine detail to create a series of stories that, read together, accrue a heft of their own.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 30 Jun 2010 16:27:56 BDT
Great review! Sadly I'm one of these people who have really tried to like Furst but just can't get into his books. Your first paragraph sums up why very concisely but your description of the plot is so good I might just chance this one when it comes out in paperback. Its the jumping from where-ever the book is set to Paris and Berlin in every one of his books that always turns me off though.

Posted on 30 Aug 2010 16:55:24 BDT
I have read some of the early Furst and was enthralled by the carefully crafted mix of the historical and the thriller.
This last book in my mind is a disgrace - a feeble plot with very unlikely characters straight out of a Hollywood movie . I can only assume this was written with American readership in mind.
Another disappointment is the very poor use of the English language, what I call sloppy writing, full of cliches and poorly constructed sentences.
It might work better as a screen play as it contains all the ingredients for a 'B' movie!
Sadly a missed opportunity .....

Posted on 4 Apr 2011 22:18:34 BDT
davidT says:
I just posted a review, then read this one which says pretty well exactly what I thought, down to the reservations! Could have saved myself half an hour there...
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Review Details



A. Ross

Location: Washington, DC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 597