Welcome to Salonika in1916: a city more than half-Jewish, which - until a few months ago - was one of the jewels in the Ottoman crown. It is now suddenly Greek. A city nominally neutral, but teeming with French, British and Serbian armies, to hold it against the Austro-German forces to the north, with their Bulgarian allies. A city seething with intrigue, where cafe society pursues its way unperturbed, within earshot of the fighting, where the foreign soldiery seeks its pleasures among the shabby streets, and where the native inhabitants are eager to make from them what money they can. Young nurses from the Women's Hospital; seasoned soldiers, pulled back from Gallipoli; a young art student, talented but uncouth, who is surprised into love of Elsie, a doughty young nurse; Isabel, the beauty of the Surrey Hills, who finds she is not immune to the glamour of a young Serbian officer with nothing to lose and little to offer; 'Simple' Simon, who pursues spying and antiquarian studies with equal enthusiasm; the Kite Balloonists, who must trade off a traditional chivalry towards the enemy against the need to survive in this world so foreign to them.
In this sparkling tale, the spirits of Wodehouse and Waugh meet those of Biggles and R C Sherriff, and the sense of time and place is impeccably vivid and real. It is a world of perilous ascents - and abrupt descents - from military kite balloons; of madcap journeys by mule, by Wolseley motor car and by foot over the grim northern mountains, where the opposing armies are locked in combat; of U-boats lurking off the city; of sinister and dangerous Gazmend Effendi, who may be Turkish - or is it Bulgarian? Or even Venezuelan? And where is all the petrol disappearing to? The breathless ride is just beginning.
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