Friday, August 27, 2010

Cloak and Swagger

by Justin Cartwright

New York Times
August 26, 2010

Since the publication of Night Soldiers in 1988, Alan Furst has made a considerable reputation as a ­writer of historical spy thrillers. These are set in that fraught period of European history starting in 1933, with Hitler’s rise to power, and ending in 1945. Though Furst is a native New Yorker, he lives some of the time in Paris and has adopted a European sensibility ­— perhaps aiming to evoke the atmosphere of his books, which have been compared to the works of John le Carré and Graham Greene.

His latest, Spies of the Balkans, is set in the winter of 1940-41 in Salonika, in northern Greece. Greece is threatened by the Axis powers; the Greeks have driven the none-too-fervent Italians back over the mountains toward Albania but believe Hitler will soon exact retribution.

Salonika is a louche and exotic port full of brothels, bars, international trade and Byzantine intrigue. In its sleepy police department is Constantine Zannis, called Costa, whose qualities of tact, bravery, honesty and charm have ensured him a special position as a fixer. He sorts out indiscretions by politicians’ children, supplies travel papers and keeps tabs on foreign security services. Lately he has taken to helping Jewish refugees from Berlin complete the increasingly difficult route to safety.


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