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on 7 July 2010
I greatly enjoyed the three previous *Station* novels and ordered this early. I was a little disconcerted to read that the action has skipped across some three years, and that this installment brings together all the key protagonists as the Reich contracts to its core, Berlin.

This must have been a challenge to write. Downing has to orchestrate his characters, bringing Russell back from the US and his son back from Russia. The latter is simple--he retreats; the former is more complex and while plausible, it ratchets up the plot to a higher level of physical action than the series has seen before.

I thought I had seen and read enough about Berlin in 1945 to get a sense of time and place, but this account takes the challenge of survival to a whole new level. The noise, smells and sights are piled on, almost to breaking point--as indeed they were for the German population, waiting either to vanquish their enemies at the last moment, or instead to die.

By the last third of the book, I was virtually unable to read ahead or put the book down--the tension was almost too much. It seemed impossible that the characters could survive the SS, the Red Army or the USAF bombs (and of course in reality many did not]. As the Thousand Year Reich shrank to a city, then a few districts, the characters are aligned, find each other, lose each other and .....well, you need to read it yourself!

I can't say this was a fun summer read. It stepped well beyond the minimal action of Alan Furst and Phillip Kerr and offered up a true inferno of intense experience. It would be a shame if David Downing now abandoned these people after investing so much in them; just as Bernard Gunther has become more interesting after 1945, I hope we get to see what happens to this cast in the post-war world.
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on 28 July 2009
The third in David Downing's "Station" series featuring John Russell is as every bit as engrossing as its predecessors. It will help readers to read them in the correct sequence, but each is an excellent book in its own right.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS!!
It is now late 1941 and America is on the verge of entering the War. John Russell, American passport holder, journalist and sometime spy-of-sorts, clings onto life in Berlin because of his actress girlfriend and his son. It is an increasingly desperate Berlin which Downing evokes. It is dark, it smells, it is subjected to not-very-effective night time bombing raids from the RAF. We know, of course, that things will get much worse for the German capital, and the fate of those Russell leaves behind when he escapes at the end of the book is something we cannot predict. Perhaps there is more to come in the series, although as an American citizen Russell would be an enemy of Germany's from here on in and it will tax even the imagination of this excellent writer to find a way of returning his chief protagonist to Hitler's Germany.

Once again Downing rights with his usual flashes of wry and often bitter humour as he describes life in Nazi Germany, on the verge of its long and awful slide to annihilation. It is splendidly detailed - the description of human waste emanating from a train carrying Russian prisoners is one example - and it leaves with a clear idea of what everyday life was like in the hellhole of 1941 Berlin.

Russell's dawning realization of what the Nazis have in mind for Europe's Jews horrifies us even though it is nothing we don't already know. The absurdity of the Nazi press conferences, the ludicrous content of the era's German movies, the complete hogwash being published as "news" in German newspapers, all these things are wonderful insights into life under this most oppressive and absurd of regimes.

In summary, the Station books are a fantastic read, and come very highly recommended for lovers of good historical novels.
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on 18 August 2010
I can't remember how I found these novels but I am sure it was through scouring Amazon for similar books to David Fiddimore's Charlie Bassett series which are also excellent. Like many of the other reviewers here I have really enjoyed this series of 'Station' books. I read them all over the last couple of weeks and agree with others that you need to start with Zoo Station. Can't say I have a favourite as I thought they were all excellent! I am now trying to find something else along the same lines....
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David Downing's third installment of the "Station" series with protagonist John Russell is a winner. The chronology has jumped to late 1941. Hitler has invaded the Soviet Union with great initial success, but the war is about to widen with the entry of Japan and the United States. Anglo-American journalist/spy John Russell barely manages to hang on in Berlin, staying a step ahead of the Gestapo by working for several competing or opposing intelligence agencies. To leave Germany means giving up his film star fiance, Effi Koenen and son Paul. As the formal entry of the U.S. into the war approaches and with it his inevitable expulsion from Germany, Russell is pulled deeper into the political maneuvering of virtually all of his erstwhile employers or masters--the Abwehr, SD, U.S. Embassy and the Gestapo. Ultimately, the cross purposes served by the journalist spy will catch up with him and drive him to flee the country, and flight will require the help of still another old employer, the Soviets. Downing has laid down a very entertaining story line, and even when it occasionally reaches a bit far to be completely credible on reflection, it certainly holds the reader's attention throughout.

Overall, one of the great strengths of this book--and the series--is author Downing's wonderfully detailed and evocative narrative that provides a totally plausible day-to-day portrayal of how Berliners lived during the still relatively early days of WWII. There is a running commentary on what food and toiletries were available and how that affected the environment on public transportation. Through Russell's fiance, Effi, there is a detailed look at the German film industry of the time, which aimed to produce 100 morale-boosting flicks a year.

To its great credit, "Stettin Station" gives a strong focus to the story's characters. This goes well beyond the protagonist John Russell and his fiance Effi to include many secondary players who are all struggling to survive in a country in its second year of war, coping with the loss of military-age children, loss of home through bombing and loss of confidence in the regime that has constructed a police state to live in and led them into an increasingly costly conflict. Downing includes a particular focus on Berlin's Jewish population, which by 1941 was barely surviving at the margins of German society and was subject to daily persecution and deportation. Their plight figures importantly in the conclusion of "Stettin Station."

This is an excellent historic thriller with unusually detailed information about the period. Wonderful narrative writing. Terrific character development. A first-rate read.
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on 2 August 2010
I was delighted to discover the fourth episode of the Station series, which if at all possible must be read in their correct sequence. We last saw John Russell as he fled from Nazi Germany shortly after America's entry into the war, leaving his longtime companion Effi and his son Paul to face an uncertain future.

Now we fast forward to the final weeks of the European war, with German forces on the retreat and the Red Army closing in on Berlin. While one or two coincidences may stretch credibility slightly, Downing does a great job of bring his three main protagonists back into play and the plot devices which he employs fall well within the acceptable definition of poetic licence.

In any case, his riveting description of Berlin in the final days of the Nazi era more than excuse whatever minor shortcomings the storyline may hold. We don't need to be history buffs to know that - for whatever reason - the Nazi hierarchy refused to give in until the very end, but as we read this book we perhaps understand better than ever what an idiotic, criminal and futile show of resistance it amounted to. Downing's decsription of life in the battered capital of a totalitarian regime in its death throes is evocative, touching, and troubling. It is well written, and very hard to put down. One could hope for more to come except that the timing of "Potsdam Station" suggests that the Russell saga may have reached a conclusion.
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VINE VOICEon 4 July 2009
This is the third in the Joihn Russell series from Downing. Like te previous 2 (Zoo & Silesian Stations) this is set in Berlin, here in the run up to Pearl Harbour.

Russell is an English journalist, with an American passport, working in Nazi Berlin in order stay with his actress girlfriend and close to his half German son. He is an ex-communist who hates the Nazi party for what they have done to the Berlin that he loves.

This book os set in the few weeks leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and follows Russell as he tries to find out what is happening to the city's disappearing Jewish population. This leads him and his girlfriend into danger.

At the same time he is being used as a pawn by the US intelligence services and the Abwehr and SD. He has to stay one step ahead of everyone while trying to find a way to protect his loved ones from the Nazis and a way to stay close to them if America comes into the war.

This is full of atmosphere. You can feel wartime Berlin asyou read every page. The conflict between Nazi propaganda and the experience of everyday Germans. There is the way that the news is massaged to hide what is starting to happen in Russia as the army surrounds Moscow. You feel that victory is a short step away, even though you already know the result.

The story flows quickly and there is danger at almost every turn. Russell is hunted after a mission to Prague for the Abwehr is found to be a ruse by the SD to find a conspiracy in the Abwehr's ranks.

The end is a little contrived and makes you wonder how the series can continue, maybe it'll move onto the war's end and Germany's demise next but you never feel let down or cheated.

This is a well written and engaging book that captures the author's knowledge of Nazi history and conditions in Nazi Berlin. You can feel his love of the era in every page and detail. If you haven't read a Downing book then start at Zoo Station and work your way through.
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Author David Downing has previously written three first-rate war/spy novels in the "Berlin Station" series that feature Anglo-American journalist, John Russell as protagonist. The books chronicle Russell's struggles to survive the prewar political and espionage whirlpool and to protect his German family as the increasingly aggressive and xenophobic Nazi regime prepares to launch WWII in the mid-1930s. These stories have been wonderfully researched, are full of well-sketched characters and a landscape detailed with great accuracy, and always high in nervous energy and, above all else, are highly entertaining. They are all well worth reading. The fourth book in the series, "Potsdam Station", may be the best in the series as author Downing notches up the action of the story to a level well beyond intelligent and cerebral that characterized the earlier books. It's a great action/thriller read that I had difficulty putting down after the first couple of pages.

The time period in "Potsdam Station" jumps ahead to the closing days of the war in Europe, as the Allies are closing in on the German capital and the Nazi armies have mostly retreated to a perimeter of a few miles around Berlin. John Russell, after escaping from Germany in 1941 to avoid interment after the entry of the U.S. into the war, has spent most of the interim in America and with American forces in Britain and France, working as a war correspondent. He has been cut off from news of his family and loved ones in the Reich--his fiance Effi Koenen, his son Paul and his in-laws. Desperate to reach all of them before Germany falls, Russell convinces the Soviet Government to allow him to enter Berlin with their forces. The deal is made only after he agrees to perform a service to the Soviets that would smack of treason to his own and other Allied governments if they learned of it. The core of the novel then becomes the question of whether Russell can reunite with his family and protect from the likely post-defeat horrors that await the German population at the hands of Soviet forces hell bent of victory and revenge.

Meanwhile, the stories of Russell's son, Paul, and fiance, Effi, both battling for own lives in or near Berlin, are told in harrowing, day-to-day detail. Effi's underground existence and resistance activities are engaging and have the ring of authenticity, but it is Paul's story, as a young soldier with the shattered German defense forces around the capital that is really grabbing. Paul's metamorphoses from Hitler Youth true believer to political atheist bent on simple survival convincingly evolves as the Soviets move closer to Berlin and the Third Reich implodes.

This is an exciting story by a writer in top form. You will find it at least on a par with Furst, Steiner, Kerr and Shriner. Highly recommended.
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on 10 October 2009
John Russell was a character I enjoyed getting to know. This concluding book (well, possibly not....) is to use a well-worn phrase 'crackling with tension' as he tries to keep one step ahead from miserable torture and death in the Gestapo's Columbia Haus. When I finished it I was moved to re-read the first two installments! There are simply not enough books of this calibre out there that are capable of walking in Bernie Gunther's footsteps.
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David Downing's 'Station' series has developed into a masterful fictionalised account of life in Nazi Germany. Stettin Station is the third, and you are advised to read the first two -- Zoo and then Silesian -- because otherwise many of the plots threads will be hard to follow in Stettin.
The hero and heroine of the series fall further into intrigue in this instalment. It's 1941 and the bombs are starting to fall on Berlin as the German troops approach their goal in the east -- Moscow. The war hangs in the balance. America has not yet joined the fray; no one knows who is really winning in Africa; German troops fighting in the USSR seem to make gains and then stall again. Meanwhile, our journalist protagonist starts to understand what is happening to the Jews and outcasts who are being shipped to east, but as a naturalised American with German family and a German girlfriend, who is also a film star, there's little he can do outwardly to upset the applecart. In secret, however, he passing information back and forth between all sides, playing communists off against Nazis, balancing the German army's machinatiions against those of the SS, and trying to keep the American secret service happy as well.

Downing brilliantly captures the air of expectation of this period, of how it might have been for the man in the street -- not quite knowing what's really going on, listening in secret to BBC broadcasts, wondering if he or she should pray for victory or defeat. For German civilians who were opposed to the war, British bombers over Berlin were a mixed blessing, bringing death, destruction but perhap the promise of the end of Nazism.
Stettin Station is the most claustrophobic of the books so far, and perhaps the most tense. Little happens for much of it, but that's the point of war and especially of espionage. Nothing happens but the peril is appalling.
Downing's language is easy to read and his insights into the life and situation of wartime Germany are fascinating. I already knew, for instance, that the winter weather in Russia slowed the advance towards Moscow. Understanding the details (German steam engines froze as their pipes were external, and they didn't have big enough water tanks to travel between Soviet water towers) added considerably to my understanding of historical events.
And now I'm cliff-hung, so will have to read the next book to find out what happens to the lead characters. This episode closes with many things left to resolve.
8/10

Recommended for fans of:
Berlin Noir ('March Violets', 'The Pale Criminal' and 'A German Requiem') (Penguin Crime/Mystery)
The Polish Officer
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David Downing's 'Station' series has developed into a masterful fictionalised account of life in Nazi Germany. Stettin Station is the third, and you are advised to read the first two -- Zoo and then Silesian -- because otherwise many of the plots threads will be hard to follow in Stettin.
The hero and heroine of the series fall further into intrigue in this instalment. It's 1941 and the bombs are starting to fall on Berlin as the German troops approach their goal in the east -- Moscow. The war hangs in the balance. America has not yet joined the fray; no one knows who is really winning in Africa; German troops fighting in the USSR seem to make gains and then stall again. Meanwhile, our journalist protagonist starts to understand what is happening to the Jews and outcasts who are being shipped to east, but as a naturalised American with German family and a German girlfriend, who is also a film star, there's little he can do outwardly to upset the applecart. In secret, however, he passing information back and forth between all sides, playing communists off against Nazis, balancing the German army's machinatiions against those of the SS, and trying to keep the American secret service happy as well.

Downing brilliantly captures the air of expectation of this period, of how it might have been for the man in the street -- not quite knowing what's really going on, listening in secret to BBC broadcasts, wondering if he or she should pray for victory or defeat. For German civilians who were opposed to the war, British bombers over Berlin were a mixed blessing, bringing death, destruction but perhap the promise of the end of Nazism.
Stettin Station is the most claustrophobic of the books so far, and perhaps the most tense. Little happens for much of it, but that's the point of war and especially of espionage. Nothing happens but the peril is appalling.
Downing's language is easy to read and his insights into the life and situation of wartime Germany are fascinating. I already knew, for instance, that the winter weather in Russia slowed the advance towards Moscow. Understanding the details (German steam engines froze as their pipes were external, and they didn't have big enough water tanks to travel between Soviet water towers) added considerably to my understanding of historical events.
And now I'm cliff-hung, so will have to read the next book to find out what happens to the lead characters. This episode closes with many things left to resolve.
8/10

Recommended for fans of:
Berlin Noir ('March Violets', 'The Pale Criminal' and 'A German Requiem') (Penguin Crime/Mystery)
The Polish Officer
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