Tuesday, February 28, 2017

European RC #5

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge

Spies of the Balkans – Alan Furst

This spy novel is set in Greece in the perilous months running up to the Nazi invasion in April, 1941. The story stars Costa Zannis, a police detective who heads the office of sensitive cases. That is, with his brains and tact, he handles delicate crimes involving the rich, the famous, the important. A ladies man, he has relationships with an old GF, a British spy, and the wife of ruthless tycoon. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the tension of Nazi cruelty and our rueful previous knowledge that Greece is doomed to Nazi occupation.

Zannis becomes involved in three secret operations. He helps a society woman in Berlin smuggle out Jewish people who have to escape or be interned in concentration camps. The British notice that Zannis has experience with escape routes so they pressure him into going to Paris to smuggle an important scientist back to Greece. The British also back an operation in which Zannis is sent to Belgrade to assist in the (historically accurate) coup by a group of pro-Western Serb-nationalist Royal Yugoslav Air Force officers commanded by General Dušan Simović.

The settings all have evocative details of Salonika, Budapest, Berlin, and Paris. Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances - such as the fine scene of his family packing to flee and the reaction of their worried sheepdog Melissa. The irrepressible S. Kolb, British agent, shows up in this one playing the ghost in the machine that he did so well in Dark Voyage and The Foreign Correspondent.

I recommend Furst’s novels highly but don’t read them too close together, otherwise the formula is a little too obvious.

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