Sunday, June 20, 2010

Furst Among Equals

So many crime novels have been written about World War II, that I thought every possible aspect and angle had been covered. But in 2001, I finally got around to reading Alan Furst’s 1995 novel, The Polish Officer, and followed it closely with Night Soldiers (1998). It was then I realized how little I knew about the war in Eastern Europe.

Furst’s masterful new book, Spies of the Balkans (Random House), advances my education still further--especially on the subject of how Greece, despite having few allies and a multitude of enemies both at home and abroad, managed in 1940 to avoid the sad fate of so many other Balkan countries.

In the northern port city of Salonika, Costa Zannis, a veteran police official and espionage agent, finds himself up to his neck in troubles as he tries to help Jews fleeing Nazi occupation. He also has to deal with a supposedly neutral but actually pro-German Greek government.

When Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini decides to launch an invasion of Greece, which he hopes will show German dictator Adolf Hitler that he isn’t going to play second fiddle to anyone (the Führer is outraged!), Zannis is recruited into the fight against Italy. As Mussolini’s invasion fizzles, Zannis moves on to other Balkan countries, making contacts with guerrilla leaders that will help him achieve his twin goals: to save Jewish emigrants as well as his own family by sneaking them into officially neutral Turkey.

Zannis’ life is made bearable (at least at first) by a splendidly sexy English woman named Roxeanne Brown. The couple make plans to go to the movies (a Turkish Western called Clyde Conquers Wyoming is one night’s choice), but instead go home to make love. “I prefer depravity,” says Roxeanne, who has a “prim English voice” and wears white cotton panties (just in case you were curious).

Spies of the Balkans is already on my short list for Best Books of 2010.

READ MORE:Alan Furst’s Spies of the Balkans,” by Michael Carlson (Irresistible Targets).


Mike Ripley said...

I too discovered Alan Furst late in the day, about four years ago. The upside to that was finding a great backlist to catch up on. What a fabulously rich tapestry he weaves - and he covers ground not covered (certainly not as well) since Eric Ambler was writing in his youthful pomp. said...

Love his books. So moody and atmospheric. After I read my first Furst, I recommended it to my dad. He laughed and said he was six books ahead of me. I can't wait for this to show up.

kathy d. said...

I was right with the Rap Sheet, getting interested in Furst's books--and I abhor books about WWII due to the horror of it all--but was getting won over by the points about Greece which I know little about.

However, the points about the perfect love interest might discourage women readers.

Craig said...

A friend, fellow writer Jean Heller, suggested Furst to me about a year ago & since then I have read "The Foreign Correspondent," "Dark Star" and my favorite so far, "The Polish Officer." I highly recommend that one. Can't wait to grab this new one and then work my way through his backlist.

alsek said...

KINGDOM OF SHADOWS was my first Furst. I read that in 2002. I have sinced read most everything he has written. My personal favorite is DARK STAR. I can't understand why none of his books have been adapted to the big screen. He is such a cinemagraphic writer. One of my all time favorites. Thanks for reviewing his latest.