Another summer read reviewed by Alan Cheuse on NPR is Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst, what the author calls a "historical espionage" novel. Cheuse says, "Spy writer Alan Furst is working at the top of his powers. Spies of the Balkans takes us to Salonika in 1940—just as Mussolini has decided to invade Greece—and carries us along with convincing historical details and heart-pounding plot-making. This fine mix gives the brutal military and social history of Europe in World War II a feeling perspective."
From the author's website:
Greece 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece, the city of Salonika . In that ancient port, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being played out. On the northern border, the Greek army has blocked Mussolini's invasion, pushing his divisions back to Albania -the first defeat for an ally of the Nazis, who have conquered most of Europe . But Adolf Hitler cannot tolerate such defiance: a German invasion is coming, and the people of Salonika can only watch and wait.
At the center of this drama is Constantine "Costa" Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special "political" cases. As war approaches, the spies begin to circle, from the Turkish legation, from the German secret service, a travel writer sent by the British, and others—from Bulgaria ? From Italy ? Nobody knows.
But Costa Zannis must deal with them all. And he is soon in the game, securing an escape route-from Berlin to Salonika , and then to a tenuous safety in Turkey , a route protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives, and Hungarian gangsters. And hunted by the Gestapo.
Meanwhile, as war threatens, the erotic life of the city grows passionate. For Zannis, that means a British expatriate who owns the local ballet academy, a woman from the dark side of Salonika society, and the wife of a local shipping magnate.
Declared "an incomparable expert at his game" by The New York Times, Alan Furst outdoes even his own finest novels in this thrilling new book. With extraordinary authenticity, a superb cast of characters, and heart-stopping tension as it moves from Salonika to Paris to Berlin and back, Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to fight back against the world's evil.