Posted: January 3, 2013 in Greece, Historical

51pC8LH9yPL._SL500_AA300_This is a fine novel that puts the current problems of Greece in perspective. 

1940-Costa Zannis is a senior police official in Salonika. He deals with special political cases

Was the Belgian consul being blackmailed by a prostitute? Call Zannis.

Had the son of an Athenian politician taken a diamond ring from a jeweller and refused to pay for it? Call Zannis.

With Mussolini’s troops in Albania about to invade and German agents all around, Zannis still manages to set up an escape route for Jews fleeing from the Nazis. He also embarks on a passionate but dangerous love affair with the beautiful Demetria. Zannis a consummate wheeler dealer arranges safe passage for his both his family and that of his valued work colleague, Gabi Saltiel, a Sephardic Jew from the large community in Salonika. In between all this Zannis mixes with British spies, Turkish officials, pickofthemonth2012Yugoslav policemen, and French resistance making dangerous trips to Paris and Belgrade. I was amazed that Furst squeezes so much action, characterisation, back stories, and easily digestible history into a mere 279 pages. We are even taken to Berlin as we follow the Gruens in a long  journey across Europe as they try to escape from the Nazis. He reminds us that Salonika was one of those cosmopolitan cities in the Ottoman Empire that along with Smyrna, and Beirut  have suffered the devastating results of war and a total change in character. 

But Zannis and Demetria even in a city about to be occupied, and suffer a catastrophe, were able to dine like the last meal of a condemned man. 

They ate spiced whipped feta, they ate calamari stuffed with cheese, they ate grilled octopus and grilled aubergine and mussels with rice pilaf and creamy thick yogurt with honey.

It all adds to the atmosphere of a very fine spy thriller.

The narrrative of Spies of the Balkans with all its tension does have a nice twist at the very end that can almost, but not quite, make you forget the terrible fate that awaited Salonika.

‘ More luck- especially for your Salonika Jews. Because our Jews, in Zagreb, are right at the top of the Ustashi list. They’d like to get rid of the Serbs, and the Croat politicians who oppose them, but they really have it in for the Jews. If the Utashi ever took control of the city, well…………..’     

Spies of the Balkans was my Pick of the Month for December.

Next week 9 January BBC are televising another Alan Furst wartime novel Spies of Warsaw.  

  1. Sarah says:

    I enjoyed this book a lot especially for its descriptions of Thessaloniki at the time. While I was living in Greece, a woman in my book club’s family were Jews living in the city. All were sent to Auschwitz and unbelievably, all survived – a family of 4. I found that an amazing story.

  2. Norman Price says:

    They were very lucky I think about 54,000 Jews from Thessaloniki were murdered by the Nazis.

  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – This sounds like a really excellent look at that period in time. And it sheds light on something that not everyone really knows much about. Thanks for your review.

  4. kathy d. says:

    This sounds like an excellent book. I’m glad I gave it to a friend for the holidays. He loves spy novels. I haven’t gotten into that genre, but I always hesitate to read about Nazi horror, but I’ll consider this one.

  5. kathy d. says:

    What is the name of the book, which you wrote it has an English country house setting, with a locked-room mystery set amid Nazi horror?

  6. Norman Price says:

    Kathy is is Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr. The house is in Bohemia, the host is Reinhard Heydrich, the guests revolting Nazis, and Heydrich wants Bernie Gunther to solve the murder. I don’t think it is one you would enjoy?

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