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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel de Alan Furst
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Spies of the Balkans: A Novel (2010 original; edició 2011)

de Alan Furst (Autor)

Sèrie: Night Soldiers (11)

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaMencions
9123417,408 (3.81)70
As war approaches northern Greece, the spies begin to circle--from the Turkish legation to the German secret service. In the ancient port of Salonika, Costa Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special "political" cases, risks everything to secure an escape route for those hunted by the Gestapo.… (més)
Títol:Spies of the Balkans: A Novel
Autors:Alan Furst (Autor)
Informació:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2011), Edition: Reprint, 268 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
Etiquetes:No n'hi ha cap

Detalls de l'obra

Spies of the Balkans de Alan Furst (Author) (2010)

  1. 00
    The Balkan Trilogy de Olivia Manning (ten_floors_up)
    ten_floors_up: Set in a similar timeframe, but with different Balkan locations (Bucharest, Athens). Literary fiction rather than thriller, with a touch of autobiography. The characters here are English expatriates caught up in the events of the times.
  2. 11
    La mandolina del capità Corelli de Louis De Bernières (TomWaitsTables)
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Es mostren 1-5 de 34 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Alan Furst has a clever knack of transporting you through the power of his writing through time and space. The time: autumn 1940. The place: Salonika (now Thessaloniki), Greece. As with the other books from the 'Night Soldiers' series that I have read, we are thrown into a world of turmoil and uncertainty brought on by the traumatic upheaval of the Second World War (or the build up to it). Furst's signature style of blending historic characters and events with authentic scene-setting and sensory suggestion is comfortingly to the fore, and I find myself enjoying the escapism that comes with a well written tale of espionage and resistance.

Costa Zannis is an early middle-aged plain clothes 'Senior Police Official' tasked with handling the awkward cases. The 'political' files that nobody else either can or wants to deal with. He has his flaws, and wouldn't even claim to be a good cop, but is dedicated to his city and its reputation as a welcoming and international port. "Europe's back door". The war in Europe creeps ever closer, with agents of all sorts afoot. Our tale takes us from the somewhat faded glamour of Ottoman-era hotels to the Byzantine back alleyway underworld. Into the melting pot of Zannis' day to day encounters comes an unexpected visitor from Berlin, with a proposal that will test him to the limit of his abilities.


'Yes,' Zannis said. 'That's for me.' The letter was from, apparently, a manufacturer of industrial knitting machines in Brandenburg - not far from Berlin - to the assistant general manager of the Royale Garment Company in Salonika. Well done, he thought.


First, he practiced, scorched a few pieces of paper, finally set the dial on WARM. Then he laid the letter flat on a sheet of newspaper on the wooden table in the kitchen and pressed the iron down on the letter's salutation. Nothing. He moved to the text in the middle - 'I am pleased to inform you that 4 replacement motors' - but, again, nothing. No! A faint mark had appeared above the p of 'pleased'. More heat. He turned the dial to LOW, waited as the iron warmed, pressed for a count of five and produced parts of three letters. He tried once more, counting slowly to ten, and there it was: '...ress KALCHER UND DRO...'
Ten minutes later he had the whole message, in tiny sepia-coloured block letters between the lines of the commercial text:

Reply to address KALCHER UND KROHN, lawyers, 17, Arbenstrasse, Berlin. Write as H.H.STRAUB. 26 December man and wife travelling under name HARTMANN arrive Budapest from Vienna via 3-day excursion steamer LEVERKUSEN. He 55 years old, wears green tie, she 52 years old, wears green slouch hat. Can you assist Budapest to Belgrade? Believe last shipment lost there to Gestapo agents. Can you find boat out your port? Please help.


This was the third book of his that I have read and enjoyed, and I look forward to reading more of his books whenever I get the chance. ( )
  Polaris- | Feb 19, 2021 |
Furst is in top form with his latest novel. Yes, he continues to follow his formula. Yes, the Brasserie Heininger and its infamous table 14 show up again. And I have to admit that the romance in this novel comes across--at least, at first--as contrived rather than genuine.

What makes these books work is Furst's depictions of people, mostly ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, set in a bygone era full of detail and atmosphere. One would think that Furst, who has carved out a narrow niche--historical thrillers set in late 1930s-1940s Europe--would have worn this niche smooth by now. On the contrary, each novel adds something new. He isn't always consistent--Blood Of Victory was far better than the following Dark Voyage--but even in his least best novels he creates compelling characters whose fates we care about.

I've spent several nights reading Furst's books and glancing at the clock, thinking I need to go to sleep, but then I've only got twenty or so pages left... Spies of the Balkans was no different. Intelligent, well-written novels, both in terms of characterization, plot, and language. ( )
1 vota ChristopherSwann | May 15, 2020 |
synopsis | Costa Zannis is a fixer in the port city of Salonika in October 1940, and though he does keep an eye on developments in Europe he's not particularly involved in anything directly. That changes when his reputation leads to an encounter with the wife of an officer on the German General Staff. As Costa considers whether and how to continue what seemed a one-time favour, his affair is suddenly of interest to British intelligence, and then he's recalled for active duty. War again appears to be coming to the Balkans, and it's unclear how Greece could be victorious.


Furst's setting is true to history but he doesn't always spell everything out. Evidently at this time (October 1940 - April 1941), German troops occupied Athens but Greece was controlled by General Metaxas, nominally prime minister. France was the reference point: if the French couldn't withstand the Nazis, the clear implication was no Balkan state could. The best path was avoiding conflict for as long as possible, until another option presented itself. Greece's ally Great Britain was under pressure in North Africa and in the Atlantic, and the Nazis were looking to build on recent successes on all fronts. Mussolini may have been unsuccessful in North Africa, but that was no solace for Greeks contemplating the Italian troops on Greece's border with Albania.

More specifically, the port city of Salonika had a history of occupation, by the Turks much earlier and more recently by the French. The result was that Salonika was another Casablanca: a crossroads of many nationalities and partisans, an embarkation point coming under increased scrutiny by allies and enemies, and a population having to face that final decision: to flee, collaborate, or to resist.

The plot is eye-rollingly unlikely: the romance, of course, but also getting out of scrapes like Paris. But Costa plays Virgil to our Dante here, and his escapades serve as a spoonful of sugar with which to down his medicine: historically accurate renderings of culture, circumstances, and all manner of violence attendant this part of the Continent in early stages of world war.


As with other novels, Furst adopts third person omniscient and follows his protagonist around, with a few exceptions: he follows a saboteur for a few paragraphs leading up to the bombing of the Greek / Serbian HQ at a school in Trikkala, and includes a few other examples with a Gestapo captain in Berlin investigating Krebs. These interludes are cinematic, setting up tension since readers know what's coming but Costa and compadres don't.

Readers also are invited to see the infamous bullet hole at Brasserie Heininger, the booth number is pointed out (fourteen), but it's a story shared between characters neither of whom got it first-hand. The anecdote is both a nod to long-time Furst readers, and to those little stories which become myth despite themselves, emblematic of the hope shared among members of the Resistance.

The dog Melissa: a sheepdog, but brings to mind another dog of Furst's, a Tatra in The Polish Officer. Both survivors, but Melissa perhaps has a bit easier going.

Mr Brown appears briefly, apparently a recurring secondary character, but I'm not sure he's appeared in those books I've read. The sort of thing that is rewarding to puzzle out on a second reading.

Furst acknowledged in 2009 that this novel was part of a thematic subseries within Night Soldiers, "a second stage" to The Spies of Warsaw. If the first trilogy was panoramic, the second was existential. He didn't characterise this third subseries, which appears to be more than a trilogy. A guess will require reading a few of the others ... and it's possible he switched it up later on, as well. ( )
  elenchus | Jan 28, 2020 |
My first Furst book, and it won't be the last. A page-turner with the plot set during World War II. Unlike a lot of books in this setting, it is set in Greece, which had yet to be invaded by Germany. Furst impresses with his use of language, especially the use of precise vocabulary which allows you to visualise the scene as it is. However, Zannis' love affair with the wife of the richest man in town was rather contrived. It does not come across as convincing that the wife idolised Zannis when they were in school (of course without Zannis knowing), which was used to explain why she so easily fell passionately in love with him, after meeting him in a chance encounter years later. ( )
  siok | Aug 9, 2017 |
This is my second Furst, after The Foreign Correspondent, and I'm still not entirely sure what to make of him. He can write, that much is obvious, but there's a curious lack of immersiveness when reading his works that might be partly stylistic and partly structural.

Like The Foreign Correspondent there's very little plot to speak of; characters come and go, events occur, some things get resolved, some don't. It might be true to life but it doesn't make for a particularly gripping narrative. Furst also seems to have no compunctions in building up a scene or crisis point and then doing absolutely nothing with it.

Case in point, the main character, a hard nosed detective named Costa Zannis, is roped into a cross-national operation to help smuggle Jews out of Nazi occupied Germany. All the while pressure is mounting across Europe, people are going missing; the operation is becoming increasingly dangerous to maintain. To compound matters, a general in the SS catches wind of what's going down and takes steps to terminate it.

So what does Furst do with this compelling material? Nothing at all. Everything just peters out and gets forgotten about. Zannis, barring an oddly tacked on sideplot set in Paris involving the retrieval of a missing British scientist, is never really under threat the entire novel. Oh, threats are talked about, and talked about some more, but everything happens at a remove.

Maybe I'm a bit too much of a traditionalist to enjoy these books, or perhaps I'm just missing the point. But it's clear that the author is at least passingly aware of the conventions of the genre and the need to fulfil them. The novel opens with a chase scene set in a factory at night, ending with a death. Why put this in if it isn't going to set the tone to follow? And the aforementioned scene in Paris, while genuinely exciting, feels tacked on and gratuitous. There's a sense throughout of the author wanting to have his cake and eat it, wanting to appeal to two crowds simultaneously and not quite getting it right.

I'm aware that neither Spies nor Foreign Correspondent are anywhere near Furst's best books, but if this is the formula on which his earlier books are also set then I'm not sure if I'm going to enjoy them half as much as I had hoped.

Next up: The Polish Officer
( )
1 vota StuartNorth | Nov 19, 2016 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 34 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Spies of the Balkans is the latest of his page-turners about the coming threat of Nazism and German occupation in the regions of Europe that were neither immediately conquered like France or Poland, nor which held out like Britain. The impact of the war on the Iberian peninsular, or on those central European countries like Switzerland, Hungary and Romania which tried to stay aloof from the conflict, remains little-known.

Furst writes about this world overshadowed by, but not totally plunged into, full-scale conflict.

Denis MacShane MP was Minister for the Balkans 2001-2005
“Spies of the Balkans” is set primarily in the northeastern Greek city of Salonika, an ancient and famously polyglot place only recently returned to Athens’ sovereignty by the second Balkan War. The action, which is propulsively nonstop, occurs over the crucial seven-month period between late 1940 and the Nazi invasion of Greece in the spring of 1941. Furst’s engaging protagonist is a “senior official” of the Salonika police, Constantine (Costa) Zannis. His personal qualities — a rare disinterest in bribes, an unfailing discretion and a wide-ranging competence that allows him to navigate back alleys and exclusive private clubs — have attracted the notice and patronage of the city’s 80-year-old police commissioner, Vangelis.
afegit per elenchus | editaLos Angeles Times, Tim Rutten (Jun 30, 2010)
Mr. Furst has written so often about such men, the intrigue that surrounds them, and their subtle, intuitive maneuvering that he risks repeating himself. But Zannis is a younger, more vigorous version of the prototype than some. And he is Greek, which adds a whole new perspective to Mr. Furst’s view of Europe before and during World War II, given the strategic importance of Greece’s ability to resist German domination. If shades of its personal drama are by now familiar to Mr. Furst’s readers, this book’s larger and more important geography seems new.

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No n'hi ha cap

As war approaches northern Greece, the spies begin to circle--from the Turkish legation to the German secret service. In the ancient port of Salonika, Costa Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special "political" cases, risks everything to secure an escape route for those hunted by the Gestapo.

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