Not Quite His Best, But Still Very Good,
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This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
Alan Furst's almost unique formula for the World War II spy novel is once again in evidence in this excellent addition to the author's growing list of titles. There is no central plot in the traditional meaning of the word. Instead, we have a central character (Greek policeman Costas Zannis) who finds himself embroiled in a variety of situations, most of them fraught with danger.
Starting just before the Italian invasion of Greece and ending with the German occupation of the same country, the book sees Zannis chasing a German spy in his home city of Saloniki, fighting Italians in the mountains, assisting Jews who have fled Germany reach safety in Turkey, help a downed English airman escape from Paris, and become embroiled in Yugoslavian wartime politics.
All of the above are described in a gripping, bare-bones style which has become typical of Furst's writing. So, too, are Zannis' relationships with his co-workers, his family, his English lover, an English spy living in Greece, and even his beloved dog. In none of these scenarios does the author miss a beat as he creates a hugely evocative picture of Greece waiting for war to come knocking on its door, and an equally gripping portrayal of a Paris already at war.
The only stumbling block, and this is why I give the book one star short of the maximum five, is Zannis' illicit love affair with the stunningly beautiful wife of a Greek shipping tycoon. It simply does not ring true, it adds nothing to the narrative, and might be seen as a way of somehow getting the novel to more than 300 pages. 280 pages without Demetria would really have been better, but that is the only quibble. It's worth tolerating for a story which is otherwise very well written, as well as being an informative historical look at theatres of the European war which don't usually spring to mind first when pondering upon the madness which was WW2.