Alan Furst has written a wonderful series of novels set in the Second World War. His latest is no exception.
Spies of the Balkans
Alan Furst’s latest novel, Spies of the Balkans (268 pages, Random House, $26) is set in Greece. World War II has just begun, but so far Greece has managed to stay out of the fray. Furst tells the story of those years.
Constantine Zannis—Costa to his friends—has an important diplomatic job in the police force. He handles, often in secret, all the most difficult political cases. Because of his position and his international circle of friends, he finds himself bemired in wartime espionage.
In the first place, this means offering his aid in a mission to help various endangered German Jews out of Germany, through Austria, Yugoslavia, and Greece on the way to Turkey. He gets involved in the last phase of this escape, but he also attempts to refine the process on the basis of the reports that he gathers after each escape.
In addition, Zannis has his ear tuned to the military situation as well, and when all the reservists are mobilized, he proceeds to a village in the northern mountains, where he establishes a communication base and deals with the effect of an Italian invasion.
With the help of British allies, the Greeks fight off the Italians and push into Albania, but everyone in the Greek administration is worried that Germany will get into the action. They feel that they have no chance in this case, and important figures in Greek society, like Zannis and his friends, are urged to flee with their families.
Zannis decides to stay, and in that position he gets a much closer look at the intricacies of wartime espionage. For one thing, his British friends, who turn out to be spies, force him on a near-suicidal mission to occupied Paris, where he is to pick up a downed British pilot, who is also a key scientist, and escort him back to Greece (and onto freedom). Furst is very good at creating the tension of such a project, and he makes truly harrowing what would otherwise be a simple train ride.
Furst is also very good at showing what happens to intimate relations when the world goes to war. When Zannis discovers that a woman with whom he was intimate was nothing but a foreign agent, he begins to doubt his ability to have a personal life at all.
Even worse, he finds he cannot sleep when he thinks about the poor refugees whom he is helping across the border. He worries about those who cannot get through. He does not know the full horror of the German treatment of the Jews, but he knows enough to understand that any failure can mean death to those who are caught by the Gestapo.
Alan Furst has written another powerful thriller. I look forward to his next one.
Pick up a copy at Powell's, Vroman's or Amazon.