Greece, 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece, the city of Salonika. In that ancient port, with its wharves and warehouses, dark lanes and Turkish mansions, brothels and tavernas, a tense political drama is being played out. On the northern border, the Greek army has blocked Mussolini's invasion, pushing his divisions back to Albania, the first defeat suffered by the Nazis, who have conquered most of Europe. But Adolf Hitler cannot tolerate such freedom; the invasion is coming; its only a matter of time, and the people of Salonika can only watch and wait.
At the center of this drama is Costa Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special political cases. As war approaches, the spies begin to circle, from the Turkish legation to the German secret service. There's a British travel writer, a Bulgarian undertaker, and more.
Costa Zannis must deal with them all. And he is soon in the game, securing an escape route from Berlin to Salonika, and then to a tenuous safety in Turkey, a route protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives, and Hungarian gangsters. And hunted by the Gestapo.
Meanwhile, as war threatens, the erotic life of the city grows passionate. For Zannis, that means a British expatriate who owns the local ballet academy, a woman from the dark side of Salonika society, and the wife of a local shipping magnate.
Declared an incomparable expert at his game by The New York Times, Alan Furst outdoes even his own finest novels in this thrilling new book. With extraordinary authenticity, a superb cast of characters, and heart-stopping tension as it moves from Salonika to Paris to Berlin and back, Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to right - in many small ways - the world's evil.
©2010 Alan Furst (P)2010 Simon & Schuster
I'm familiar with The Polish Officer and Dark Star and I was incredibly disappointed with this book. Admittedly, I am interested in spy/espionage/thrillers with tension and suspense driving the characters. This book seemed mired in historical details piled upon details, most of which led nowhere, dramatically speaking, but more a statement by the author about his take on events past. A comparison, though perhaps not a perfect one, would be a very knowledgable history teacher telling a story set in the past in another locale, only to abandon storytelling frequently and elaborate on historical events at that time and place.
Perfunctory bits about the protagonist recalling women brushing up against him, musing about their name, sketching a past event with them, never had me engaged in relationships with them, therefore no sense of loss when things didn't work out, when they were left behind and lost.
Long sections attempting by the author to get into the heart of darkness of a man at odds with his environs and associates, felt like verbal angst from the author, not from character actions and resulting reactions. There were so many characters that in depth exploration was usually a stated opinion of the first person speaker, not displayed by characters Events were introduced in a way that built predictability of their outcome, drained suspense from one section to the next.
It was an effort to stay with this reading until the end, though the reader's character interpretations were captivating in tone at times. I'm not sure of the primary interest of readers who praise it but it's not a book I recommend for hounds of spy, thriller, espionage stories against international and historical backdrops..
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
I loved 'Spies of the Balkans' (Night Soldiers #11). It wasn't Furst's best in the series, but it was a sweet Kataïfi of a novel. Emotionally this was a novel that fed me. Furst highlights the little things people do with just a little nudge to make a dark world just a bit better. 'Spies of the Balkans' is about the sacrifices people made during fascism's push into Southern Europe.
The novel centers around Costa Zannis, a senior police official in Salonika, who sometimes finds his talents needed by both the Jews seeking to escape Germany and British spy networks. It is a novel that drips with the hidden goodness of those amazing men and women who refused to let dark circumstances dictate their character.
Daniel Gerroll does an excellent job of narrating Spies of the Balkans. He has narrated the last three (Spies of Warsaw, Spies of Balkans, Mission to Paris) and has done a great job with Furst. It is kinda like James Bond. I love the classic Furst narrator (Guidall narrated Night Solders # 1 - 8), but have also really enjoyed Gerroll.
i bought this book on an audible promotion - it was on discount and i was out out of units. i read it just after finishing dragon tattoo, and spies of the balkans did not compare well. the narrator was overly laconic or low affect, and the story, while interesting, was not gripping. i had to listen and re-listen numerous times because it did not hold my attention. the listening stretched longer than most books, and i finally got my new credits about the time my listening to this book came to an end. i found one of the new jack reacher novels and could not put it down. this did not measure up well either to girl with the dragon tattoo or jack reacher. sigh.
but not a great spy/suspense novel. I very much enjoyed the historical detail and the information about Greece and the Balkans at the time that Germany was beginning to threaten and then to attack. Furst got the characterizations right in terms of people's fears, denials, decisions and reactions. However, I think the story was a bit too much all over the lot--getting Jews out of Germany, smuggling downed British aviators, killing Nazis, etc.--so I kept asking myself where the drama and the narrative drive were. Although I did enjoy the main character, I was a bit disappointed by the Hollywood ending, and the tacked on resolution of a dangling sub-plot. The narration was quite good, though, and all-in-all an enjoyable listen.
Furst leads the reader into multi-cultural, multi-ethnic pre-Second World War Thessaloniki (Salonika) with a fascinating spy story. One can almost taste the grilled octopus and retsina wine, and smell the Aegean Sea. The Swastika looms large as the characters face the inevitability of war.
I am a fan of both the genre this book represents, and Alan Furst (usually), but this book just didn't cut it. After almost 10 hours of listening I was still waiting for the story to get going, when suddenly the book was finished. The reader, Daniel Gerroll, has a voice that is better suited to hypnotherapy than audio books and I found myself wandering off on mental tangents way too often. I understand the need to concentrate hard when listening to audio books, but one shouldn't have to work this hard at staying involved with the plot....
This has to be the least engaging and least interesting audiobook I have ever listened to. There really isn't a plot, and the characters are poorly drawn and developed. It was almost a chore to listen to this book all the way through.
Sadly, this once terrific author has fallen into a formulaic rut. I have read or listened to all of his thrillers set in the WW2 era. The obligatory visit to Bistro Henninger was totally implausible and the major romance was worse than the most obvious chick lit. I mean really, he falls madly, permanently in love with the beautiful, blonde wife of the powerful rich man after only one glance. Plus, it turns out she has been in love with him since she was a school girl of 12. Give me a break. If I want more Alan Furst, I will go back to his earliest books. I gave it 2 stars because the political/thriller aspect of the plot was okay.
I enjoyed the story and the way it was told. I think the author captured the human experience of people caught up in world changing events who live them as their daily experience without the drama of thriller novels.
I enjoyed the narration and thought the narrator was an excellent match for the tenor of the story.
A very enjoyable read. The historical backdrop is the real star of this book, and you can't help but become involved in the uncertainty and fear that permeated the months leading up to the occupation of Greece. You get a fantastic sense of the relationships, the dynamics and pasts of Balkan countries and the psychology of their peoples. I enjoyed the narration a great deal - a very unusual reading style that you will learn to appreciate as you absorb the book.
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