4.21.2010

Book Review: Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Walk the streets of Salonika alongside special police detective, Costa Zannis...in 1940s Greece.

War is in the air. You can feel it. The Germans have moved across northern Europe like a tidal wave. The Greeks are used to struggle. Their beautiful stretch of islands have been sought after for millenia. The Persians, the Turks, even their neighbors, the Italians. History has been a long struggle with occupation.

Costa has seen a lot during his time as a police officer in northern Greece. But he can feel that things are only going to get worse. This policeman decides to make a crucial decision to help some people escape Berlin. It won't be easy and he knows he is putting his life at risk, but he can't help it, feels its the right thing to do.

Reading Alan Furst is like enjoying a fine wine. At one point in your life maybe by mistake or by recommendation, who knows, you happen upon one of his books. Once you've had a taste, you can't figure out how you've gone so long without it. For it seems he was always there, just in front of you.

He is able to mix elements of spy intrigue, military history, local color, and sexual mischief, all into one. This is something I haven't found in any other historical novels, especially ones with a military history bend. 

And I know I am late to the Furst party, but I feel that I've found a writer who I yearn for each new project. 2008's The Spies of Warsaw allowed me to meet him when he read at the Barnes and Noble on 68th Street in NYC. It was a treat and he was such a nice person, we chatted briefly at the signing table.

Back to the new novel, the only thing I can think to say negatively, is that it was way too short of a book after having waited two years for it. I was hoping for tome, and at less than 300 pages I felt somewhat disappointed when it was over much too quickly. 



Regardless, I've been recommending his work ever since I first read him and I'm pleased, that at least for me, there is a backlist for me to draw upon when I need my Furst quenched.

5 comments:

Kerry @ Entomolgy of a Bookworm said...

Great review! I've been wanting to read Furst for some time. You've convinced me that I better get to it sooner rather than later.

Jayf said...

Yes, it is worth getting to, I think you'll enjoy his work. I forgot to mention that this book releases this June. Enjoy! And thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

This is a cool review! I really liked Blood of Victory (I think that's the one--with Serebin) and The World at Night, but Night Soldiers, his earliest one, was deeply moving. Even though the writing wasn't as polished back then I think it's really great. If you've read all his books try David Downing--Zoo Station, Silesian Station, and he too has a new one coming out. They are really interesting, too. And for a non-WWII setting but also really interesting books that capture the flavor of a time Frank Tallis writes neat books set in turn of the century Vienna.

Francis said...

If only we'd been there...maybe it's the romantic notion, by imagining you there (Jayf, with facial hair and all), as a Furst character who is just commenting on the going-on's of the story, makes me (a non-Furst "knower") consider picking it up (in June, yes). The cover art (is that final?) is good enough as well (is that you lingering behind that beautiful young woman?). Ah, spies like us, if only...

Jayf said...

Anonymous-thanks for the recommendations, I'm glad you liked my review.
And Francis, sometimes I do feel as if I were meant to exist in another era. Don't we all? From time to time...