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With the final installment in the John Russell series of novels, David Downing now takes his characters to the first crisis of the Cold War with the Berlin Airlift. Loose ends left from the previous book are tied up, sorting out what will happen to characters and relationships; and along the way the author subtly uses what is occurring politically in Yugoslavia, and in Czechoslovakia, to present the two main options facing East Germany as Stalin cracks down on countries he has occupied. Of course, there is a mystery to solve, too - a puzzling suicide - but it isn't forced. People get on with everyday living.

If John Russell is often away on work in Trieste, Prague and other locations, his wife Effi Koenen is back in Berlin, and it is through her that we watch the Russians clamp down on the capital, inch by inch trying to isolate the city and cut it off. In this Russell's old friend Gerhard Strohm gives the view from inside the German communist party, showing how members are manipulated/coerced by Moscow into doing things they fundamentally disagree with. Strohm is incredulous to discover that forced Labor Camps are being set up within East Germany, and through him we see the impact that Koestler's then fresh novel Darkness at Noon had on German communists as Russian oppression set in. In subtle ways Effi and Gerhard characterise Berliners who can see repression creeping up, and just don't know what to do to prevent the rise of a new police state.

Downing's books are often compared to Philip Kerr's and Alan Furst's, although to my mind they have more the gradual pace, complexity of characterisation and strength of detail of Eric Ambler (especially Judgement on Deltchev) and Olivia Manning's Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy. There isn't the rush from one suspenseful incident to another, or the language and mood of a hard boiled thriller. John Russell doesn't go looking for trouble, doesn't bed-hop, and isn't making wise-cracks to the reader. If I certainly am a fan of Kerr's Bernie Gunther thrillers, for me Downing builds a more plausible view of what it was like to live through desperate times.

(I see David Downing begins a new series of pre-WW1 espionage tales with his novel Jack of Spies to be published later this year.)
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on 30 August 2014
This is the last in the "Station" series and I'm already thinking that I've been a bit harsh in only giving it three stars but I'm sticking to it for a number of small reasons that I shall explain later.
In "Lehrter Station" David Downing painted a superb picture of post-War Berlin; a grubby world of mixed morals, the fit child of the Nazi War. In "Masaryk Station" the world of 1948 feels perhaps a little less grubby but more uncertain because of the political game the Soviets are playing. It was interesting reading about a Berlin where the divisions of the times to come did not exist and which were unimaginable. People seem to move around between zones with perfect freedom but also with an understanding of the undertones that exist in Soviet behaviour. Abroad (because that's where a lot of the action in the first half of the book takes place) it is the Americans who are playing a duplicitous game just as they did in "Lehrter Station". They have allied themselves with former Nazi supporters in what they know will be the coming conflict with the Soviets. They play a quiet role in supporting the number of escape routs that have been set up for Ukrainian Nazi-supporting nationalists, bloodthirsty Croat racists and for Soviet defectors. Our hero, John Russell is in the middle of both these worlds and thus has no illusions about either party. His hands feel filthy and he would love to get out.
Then along comes an opportunity. Something has turned up that might just provide Russell and his family with a get-out-of-jail-free ticket...
On the whole this was a good read marred only by the terrible grammatical errors that appear to have been thrown into the publication like spanners intended to ruin my day. They are irritating and evidence of a rush into publication (either that or the Soviets have been at it... or those incompetent US officers that crop up in the book). Without wishing to spoil the read for anyone else, I do think the outcome is a little simplistic and even "innocent" for a book that has its feet in the realpolitik of those uncertain times. Another ending would have been much more realistic... Oh cynic that I am!
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on 12 June 2013
Up there with the rest of the series, and I'll be sad to see the last of John and Effi. Maybe if we put enough pressure on Mr Downing, he will do another, after all, the ending gave me the impression that it's at least a possibility. Or maybe that's just wisful thinking on my part.
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on 2 September 2015
The final volume in the Stations series finds us starting off in 1948 in Trieste, the most southerly point of the Iron Curtain as described by Churchill. And what a maelstrom: not only the Yugoslav mixture on the Italian frontier but all sorts of muddling agencies such as the MGB, GRU, K-5 and K1, not to mention the complexities of counter-espionage. As the lead character John Russell observes, "Hitler had been dead for almost three years but so many of the conflicts his war had engendered were still unresolved".

Historically, as with the other Station books, the scenario is extremely interesting. Note, for example, the growing pains of the future East Germany and the degree of hypocrisy. And the Berlin airlift is an important backdrop. Since it's now a quarter of a century since the end of the Cold War, it's perhaps a little difficult to remember the "cat and mouse" games which surrounded it, but the author captures them well.
The book is extremely gripping and certainly holds the readers' attention.

I felt sorry to finish this series. I will miss The Stations. They have been well worth reading.
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on 4 July 2015
In 1975 an elderly Polish lady who had been living in the UK since after the war told me a little about her life. I've not forgotten the following words but only now that I've read Masaryk Station do I really understand what she was saying: "We ran from the Germans but we ran faster from the Russians".
I previously had no idea how bad things were in Berlin at the end of the war. I'd assumed it would have been much the same as life in London at the time.
I've read my way through all six of the John Russell series and have thoroughly enjoyed each one of them. They've been an enlightening history lesson from start to finish, and I love 'John Russell's' cynical outlook so I really liked some of David Downing's descriptions. I'm relieved that John, Effi and Rosa managed to stay alive.
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on 25 August 2013
i) my evaluation is for the whole series
ii)at the end of the last book, Downing mentions Greene and Furst as the two authors in the special "elusive writing"
club; i guess that with the book sin this series, Downing deserves to be in the club
iii) in the last book, the author refers a lot, in fact it is na importante part of the story,
to Yugoslavia after the war and the "disagreement" between the communist parties of Yugoslavia and Soviet Union;
this was quite refreshing; not clear why this topic is not more seen in other spy/thriller books

Great series ! Pity it is the lastbook in the series. Hopefully, the author will get back to it in the future
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on 24 November 2013
With this, the sixth novel in the John Russell series, David Downing brings to a finale the chronicle covering the years between the World Wars, those following the collapse of Nazi Germany. It has been quite a journey, with Russell having served as a double agent for both the Soviets and Americans, certainly as dangerous as an existence can be. Each of the novels reflected the times and the clashes of the ideological differences between the two countries.

In the final book, the story of a divided Germany and Berlin is recounted, ending with the seeds that were sown in the fall of the Soviet Empire. At the same time, the personal conflicts that beset Russell and others who at first embraced and then questioned socialism are explored and analyzed.

Each entry in the series was well-crafted to not only tell a gripping story of our times, but to call to mind the era as portrayed by real-life characters. It has been an excellently told saga. (It is unfortunate that the latest volume suffers from poor production, editing and proofreading, riddled with typographical and grammatical errors.) Next spring, we are promised a new series by the author moving back in time to World War I.

My parenthetical criticism notwithstanding, the novel is recommended.
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on 2 September 2013
...for David Downing's series set in Germany during the 30s and 40s. The first, 'Zoo Station', was very good and possibly stands comparison with Alan Furst's work, but the last two novels have been very weak. The Effi Koenen character has come more to the fore as the series has progressed, consequently the stories have softened both in content and their telling. It's a shame because she's a good character but making her more of an equal with John Russell had shifted the focus somewhat and I don't think it works very well.
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on 23 November 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Station series so my comments apply to all 6 books rather than just this one. I will miss John Russell and Effi Koenen and their family and friends. All the characters were very well drawn and the background of wartime Berlin and Eastern Europe seemed very realistic. John Russell may well have had enough adventures for several characters but I never felt that credidibilty was being stretched to far. Great reading and if you like this particular genre then thoroughly recommended.
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on 20 January 2015
Another brilliant novel in this excellent series. Set mainly in Berlin and Prague, in the uneasy peace following the 2nd world war, John Russell now working as a double agent for both the Russians and the Americans, tries to keep those close to him safe whilst appeasing both his masters. As usual in this author's books, there is a great sense of place, especially with ordinary people trying to carry on their normal lives in a bombed out city.
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