Sunday, 22 May 2016

Spies of the Balkans - Alan Furst

On the face of it, Furst works in a limited canvas - war comes to ... wherever. But that's the beauty of a World War; it tends to happen everywhere. This time we are in Salonika: the year is 1940 and our hero is Costa Zannis, in charge of a Byzantine special unit of police, part Special Branch, part Diplomatic Corps.

Zannis is good-looking and single. He starts off sleeping with an English spy, hatches a plot with a German Jewess married to a Wehrmacht officer to facilitate the escape of Jewish escapees to Turkey, and ends up seducing the wife of the dubious local millionaire who financed the said escapes. Inbetween time he is called up to active service as the German army masses on the border and recruited to evacuate an English agent from Paris.

As well as exploring the various facets of Zannis's character, Furst also brings to life his family and associates. This is what brings me back time and again to Furst's novels.  So much detail, such effective writing, faultless research, a labyrinthine plot - and all in less than 300 pages. The sheer rigor is astonishing, the results captivating.  Absolutely my favourite writer of World War II spy fiction.

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