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Zoo Station [Paperback]

David Downing
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Mar 2008
Englishman John Russell is a member of the foreign press corps in Berlin and a first-hand witness to the brutal machinations of Hitler and the Nazi party in the build-up to war during the early months of 1939. Unlike many of his colleagues, Russell wishes to remain in Berlin for as long as possible to be close to Effi, his glamorous actress girlfriend, and above all to Paul, his eleven-year-old son who lives with his estranged German wife. When an old acquaintance turns up at his lodging house, Russell's life begins to change. Gradually he is persuaded by a combination of threats, financial need and appeals to his conscience to become a spy first for the Soviet Union and then, simultaneously, for the British. The grimness, the constant fear and the skin-deep glitter of pre-war Berlin alleviated by atmospheric excursions to Prague, Danzig, London and the Baltic seashore form a rich backdrop as Russell, a reluctant hero and saviour for some, treads along ever narrowing lines between the Russians, the British and the Gestapo.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Old Street; New Ed edition (3 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905847343
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905847341
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 427,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Excellent... A complex and edge-of-the-seat thriller... Think Robert Harris and 'Fatherland' mixed with a dash of le Carré; it s good, and there's more to come' --Publishing News

About the Author

David Downing is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. The first 'John Russell and Effi Koenen' novel, Zoo Station, was published in 2007 and became a word-of-mouth bestseller. It was followed by Silesian Station in 2008, Stettin Station in 2009 and Potsdam Station in 2010. David lives in Surrey with his wife and two cats. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking read! 11 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was the first novel, from this author, that I have read. I found it a first class read, mixing fact with fiction seamlessly. Having visited Berlin many times I could almost walk the streets with the characters. I have now read his follow up books (Stettin Station,Silesian Station) and await delivery of the final, Potsdam Station. Had trouble putting it down!
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading 6 April 2009
By Zelig
I read this book on the strength of it being brought to my attention by Amazon when I was ordering some of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels (the March Violets triple-set).

I have long been fascinated by this period of history - what made ostensibly intelligent and rational people embrace Nazism, either wholeheartedly or by simply tolerating the pervading power of the State machinery in everyday life?

Previous reviewers have noted the lack of set-piece action (though the story itself is taut and believable), but I think the events of this book probably better reflect the reality of the situation, in particular the inability to trust all but a select few with your true thoughts, and the fact that simple kind deeds could leave you in very real danger.

In fact, when compared to Kerr's entertaining Gunther mysteries, Downing's protagonist (John Russell) emerges the much more plausible character. Gunther - particularly by the time we reach The One From The Other and A Quiet Flame - starts to enjoy some outrageous coincidences and good fortune, quite apart from the oddity that he has survived the war despite being on first-name terms with Artur Nebe and Reinhard Heydrich (amongst others).

So in short, a worthwhile and credible read with a good feel for the times. If you want a more action packed but less plausible feel for the same time period, go with Gunther.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very very good read 14 May 2008
I bought this book on a 2 for 3 in Waterstones (so if it was rubbish it hadn't cost me anything) impulse and enjoyed it so much I have just been out and bought the second instalment of what is going to be a trilogy.

It is a mixture of spy novel and exploration of what it must have felt like to be a non-German living in Germany in the immediate run-up to the Second World War. The main character is a journalist with a foreign passport - so the means to escape the Nazis - being simultaneously sought as a spy by Germany, Britain and Russia. He is also, however, a compassionate individual dealing with all sides of the situation and sometimes compromising his ideals to both protect those he cares about and resist the impending crisis he can see looming.

Downing manages through the eyes of this character - an Englishman called John Russell - to create a powerful sense of disorientation and of a shifting moral landscape - while at the same time telling a story which keeps you turning the pages.

Excellent read - highly recommended to both fans of spy novels and those with an interest in how the Nazi (or any other repressive state) could come into being.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Credible look at pre-WWII Germany 7 Dec 2011
By Blue in Washington TOP 500 REVIEWER TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I read David Downing's excellent "Silesian Station" before taking on "Zoo Station," but the latter (being the first in the series so far), didn't suffer by comparison and there was nothing lost in continuity. "Zoo Station" is more of an ambling setup that establishes the political and social environment in Europe in the two years preceding the opening of WWII hostilities in September 1939. Author Downing appears to have done a gargantuan amount of research on the period, including details as minute as street crossings in provincial towns, but working on as grand a scale as the course of diplomatic relations between an increasingly aggressive Nazi Germany and its increasingly nervous, and ultimately unfortunate, neighbors.

Downing's protagonist. Anglo-American journalist, John Russell, is an appealing character trying to navigate a world that is becoming more dangerous for him and his German family every day. With the principal aim of establishing the environment of the period. Russell's day-to-day routine is spelled out in great detail in this story. It's an effective device that gives the reader a palpable sense of what Berlin, Cracow, Prague, etc. were like at the time as well as how ordinary Europeans were living their lives under mounting political and social threat.

There is an excellent plot line here as well. Protagonist Russell reluctantly becomes, after all, a spy and is pushed into some hairy situations that could cost him his head (literally) at the hands of a Nazi executioner. The action in "Zoo Station" is akin to that presented in Alan Furst's excellent books of the same period--building slowly and resolving through dialogue rather than violence.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant And Absorbing Thriller 24 Jan 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for my new Kindle in the 1 sale and what a bargain! Having just read a run-of-the-mill novel this was just what I needed to get my teeth into. Downing's descriptions of a pre-WWII Nazi Germany in 1938 leave you feeling like you are actually there with the protagonist John Russell as he tries to earn a living in a increasingly subversive and authoritarian regime that spreads terror and death.

I had no idea that Zoo Station was the first of 4 novels, thankfully I started with the first because I think that they need to be read in order to get the full benefit and richness of the characters and they develop over the story arc.

I would have no hesitiation in buying the following 3 sequels and highly recommend Zoo Station to anybody with a liking for thrillers set admist a clmate of espionage and double-dealing.

If I only had 3 words for this review they would be 'Just buy it'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A missed chance
A book that has the potential to be better. Some good characters and an interesting plot but not quite a page turner
Published 3 days ago by D. Hutton
5.0 out of 5 stars INteresting
Very Interesting and different
Published 9 days ago by Mrs C Silvester
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read!
‘Zoo Station’ by David Downing
Posted on January 16, 2014 by bazgriffiths

Set in 1930s, this historical espionage thriller provides a fascinating insight into the... Read more
Published 9 days ago by B E Griffiths
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly evokes the atmosphere of Berlin just before WW2
Set mainly in Berlin just before the Second World War, the novel's main character is a freelance English journalist who has a son by a German woman and is in a relationship with a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by M. F. Cayley
3.0 out of 5 stars Zoo Station and all the sequels
My husband and his friends love these, but then none of them speak German. For my taste, there is far too much mention of roads and places, as if the author was showing off,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Royce Lindsey-noble, Mrs Lindsey-noble
4.0 out of 5 stars Zoo Station by David Downing
Set in pre-2nd world war Berlin, it describes the life in general and also the treatment of Jews at that time.
Well researched and written. Read more
Published 1 month ago by H Abhyankar
3.0 out of 5 stars So so
Having devoured all Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels and finding myself at a loss as to whether to read them all again or try something of that ilk, we pull into Zoo Station. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Aidan Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars spy thriller
the book was very good could not put itndown if you like spy thriller this is the one for you
Published 2 months ago by Mrs Susan Westlake
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting view of....
....life in Nazi Germany. Not as unremitting grim as the world of the Book Thief, but the story is compulsive and I will be reading further episodes.
Published 3 months ago by M. MAY
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read
Good plot line with several overlapping stories. Our hero Russell is a credible character who starts out just trying to carry on working, as a British journalist in pre-war Nazi... Read more
Published 3 months ago by retired reader
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