Thursday, April 5, 2012

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Costa Zannis is a man who loves his job and his country. A detective on the police force in Salonika, Greece in 1940, he has access to major society players from the lowest of the low to the most powerful public figures. Thus, as WWII threatens to sweep down through the Balkans, he's privy to much disturbing information on the Nazi movement south and east, as well as the machinations of Mussolini in Italy.

As the Nazi machine grinds south, his connections help him operate a rescue ring for Jews fleeing occupied nations. This is where the intrigue in Spies of the Balkans really takes flight – author Alan Furst exhaustively researched the diplomatic and physical battles that drove the Nazi occupation into the Balkans. His research feeds a furiously paced romp through Europe as Zannis fights to save the lives of his family, friends, and fleeing Jews, ultimately growing entangled in plots to rescue entire nations. Meanwhile, Zannis is captivated by a glacially beautiful woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a tyrannical senior Greek bureaucrat. Will his strict moral code allow him to do what he needs to save as many as he can? With the Gestapo on his tail for murder, will his transgressions so far cost him his life?

Loaded with plot and politics, it could be argued that the character development is a little light in Spies of the Balkans. That, however, would be missing the point of the novel. Zannis is a gloriously gritty pulp fiction detective in the tradition of Sam Spade, surrounded by the same femmes fatale characters. No one is supposed to learn and grow, there's no time for that – Spies of the Balkans is a relentless romp, a wild ride through the race to evade the Nazis. Pour yourself a highball, put up your feet and turn the blinds –  Furst's Spies of the Balkans won't let you go until it's all over.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on April 5, 2012. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.   

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