"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Spies of the Balkans

TITLE: Spies of the Balkans
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

As I work through all of Alan Furst's books in trade paperback, I'm constantly reminded of how meticulous a researcher he is and how skilled he is at weaving the knowledge he's gained about the years leading up to and through World War II into a work of fiction, skill that includes breathing life into a set of heroes, both likely and unlikely.

In this book, he set his tale in Greece, a country whose activities during the Second World War are largely unfamiliar to me. As with the other books of his I've read, Furst engages his characters in a series of actions and events that paint a picture of life in Greece as it prepares for the threat of a German/Nazi invasion.

Costa Zannis, a Greek police official who works on special cases, uncovers a German spy at the waterfront in Salonika at the start of the book, and over the next year or so, finds himself called up for active service in the Greek army, is injured and returned home, becomes involved in an underground network sneaking Jews out of Germany to Egypt or Turkey, and falls in love, all while planning for the safety of his mother and brother should the Germans invade, his activities taking him to a number of European cities.

When I read Furst's books, I feel as if I'm there with the characters, experiencing their world, and this is no exception. The pacing is solid, the actions required of Costa growing in seriousness and urgency until the Germans are at the border and he's faced with the decision of whether or not to leave his homeland. Despite the intrigue and tension, this is at its core, a simple tale well told.