Spies of the Balkans

Alan Furst is an author of historical spy novels set just prior to and during the Second World War.  He has written eleven novels in this genre and I have read them all.  His latest work is Spies of the Balkans.  Anyone of these novels could substitute as the script for the movie Casablanca.  Although there are few Americans in these books, the rest of the polyglot cast is present and did I mention Nazis?  Yes, there are always lots of Nazis.

From his first novel in this genre, Night Soldiers, to his most recent, there are similarities between the different stories that border upon repetition.  Furst dances close to this line, but never crosses it.  Prototypical of this dance is his use of the Paris Brasserie, Heininger, as a scene in every one of his novels.  In each book this scene is populated by that novel’s main character, but in each book that character’s context is different.  For some it is a one time visit, for others it is a favorite meeting place.  In the latter case there are other occupants of the Brasserie that sometimes raise the protagonist’s suspicion.  I suspect that a careful cross referencing of Furst’s books will find a correlation between the suspicious glances of one book’s character with that of another’s.

What makes Furst’s novels compelling is the detail with which he paints his scenes.  He garners these details from period books by foreign correspondents.  According to Furst:

Their books were always called “Flames Over Europe.” They always told people exactly what was going to happen and they were never believed.

This is a genre that I am naturally susceptible to, Spies and Nazis and Bears, Oh my! 

The following synopsis is derived from Borders, where I buy all my books:

Set in Greece in 1940, Spies of the Balkans, focuses on Costa Zannis, a senior Salonika police official known for his honesty and discretion.  As the Nazis’ intentions for Europe’s Jews becomes clear, Zannis goes out of his way to aid refugees seeking to escape Germany.  When Mussolini invades Greece, Zannis joins the army, where he meets Captain Marko Pavlic, who as a policeman in Zagreb investigated crimes committed by Croatian fascists. With their similar politics, Zannis and Pavlic soon become friends and allies. Subtle details foreshadow the coming Nazi crimes.

Did I mention that I liked the book?

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