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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking read!
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!
Published on 11 July 2010 by Mrs J Jobson

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not gripping enough
What saves this is the quality of the writing. If "readable" is not too much of a put-down then this is it. The narrative flows along.

I do feel, however, that John Russell doesn't have a bad enough time of it! Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada, for instance, gives a far more chilling portrait of life under the bullies because the main players are ordinary...
Published on 19 April 2012 by Gargoyle


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking read!, 11 July 2010
By 
Mrs J Jobson (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zoo Station (Paperback)
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 (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Zoo Station (Paperback)
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
By 
lmhh (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zoo Station (Paperback)
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 "Barry Ballow" (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
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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. What violence there is in this book comes as background, basically as descriptions of what is happening to German Jews and other Nazi opponents that have been marked for elimination or exile.

Overall, I would give this book a four plus on the Amazon scale. Without a doubt, Downing's John Russell series is a most welcome addition to WWII genre fiction. He has a real talent for credible narrative. Let's hope that there is a sequel to "Zoo Station" and "Silesian Station" in the near future.
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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
By 
CriticalMass (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zoo Station (Kindle Edition)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not gripping enough, 19 April 2012
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What saves this is the quality of the writing. If "readable" is not too much of a put-down then this is it. The narrative flows along.

I do feel, however, that John Russell doesn't have a bad enough time of it! Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada, for instance, gives a far more chilling portrait of life under the bullies because the main players are ordinary working people scared for their lives. You fear what's coming round every corner.

Russell is blessed with a filmstar girlfriend, a pass from the SD to swan around the country and the knowledge that with his UK and US connections, he could probably wangle out of trouble if need be. I'm not entirely convinced at the way he coped at the end either.

Some have compared Russell with Bernie Gunther. Not for me. The Gunther novels are camp. He's a Marlowesque figure. Downing's hero operates more in the real world but it needs to be crueller.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping but padded, 17 May 2011
By 
John Slaytor (England) - See all my reviews
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It's a real page turner, but I have to agree with the comments about the travels round Berlin. I was in Berlin last month and to start with it was quite interesting remembering the S-bahn routes but by halfway I was skimming over the lists of street names. Apart from that it was very enjoyable and I would certainly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captures 1939 Berlin on the brink., 16 Sep 2013
By 
Bookie (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zoo Station (John Russell and Effi Koenen Novel) (Kindle Edition)
John Russell is a new anti hero for me. My first read if a book by David Downing and I was completely absorbed. The power of words is to take the reader to the place and time in the imagination of the author. I felt as if I were in Berlin, seeing the avenues and extravagantbuildingsfirst hand. I sensed suspicion, hatred, anger and mistrust, particularly towards Jews. I gained painful insight into the minutiae of day to day life in Nazi Germany where Hitler worship was the only acceptable life style. For those without that choice, there were few options.

This tale exposes, in a fictional setting, the facts around Nazi attitudes towards not only Jews, but anyone who failed to meet the Aryan 'model' intellectually or physically. It's a frightening indictment of a nation whose moral compass was defined by one malignant individual and embraced without question by a majority.

I loved the slow and detailed pace in the first part of the book. Characters are introduced and defined by the mundane detail of their daily activities, but in a context that lays the foundations for the latter part of the book. The pace built slowly and inexorably as Russell challenged his own values. I was holding my breath at one point where his false bottomed suitcase was discovered by the Gestapo...

All in all, this is a compulsive introduction to a central character whose conflicting allegiances to Germany and Britain, son and lover, friends and family are thought provoking and plausible. I like the characters, I enjoyed the plot and in terms of edgy historical fiction, Le Carre with a twist, this ticks all the boxes. On the basis of this, I've bought the rest in the series...loved it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well researched and exciting book, 14 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Zoo Station (John Russell and Effi Koenen Novel) (Kindle Edition)
I hit on this book by surfing the Amazon site and was attracted by the detail and comprehensive reviews already listed on the site. The book deals with a time in the history of the 20th century that is close to my life and therefore seemed to draw me in. I was not disappointed since the storyline is realistic and exposes the true depth of the evil regime that dominated Germany in the years leading up to the Second World War. This book and several others by the same author have brought home to me the terror, fear and courage of the persecuted peoples of Germany and my good fortune as a surviving refugee who was brought to Great Britain as as a child over 70 years ago. David Downing is to be congratulated on publishing 6 books that tell a fascinating tale of intrigue, espionage and courage against the sinister and devious background of domination and persecution in Nazi Germany.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HISTORY BROUGHT TO LIFE, 24 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Zoo Station (John Russell and Effi Koenen Novel) (Kindle Edition)
A wonderful evocation of life in Nazi Germany & its neighbouring states in the build-up to WWII. The characterisation is excellent & believable bringing the history of this dark time to life. It helps to show how a powerful & scheming mind was able to build up hatred in previously reasonable minds - always an object lesson in seeing how a whole nation can be manipulated to the point of no return. Unify your supporters by inventing a dark menace from which the manipulator appears to offering protection, while being the greater threat from within. The self-proclaimed protector of civilization being its greatest enemy.
We also see how Britain & the USA tried to avoid seeing the inevitability of the need to deal with the growing menace.
Brilliantly researched & masterfully presented.
I moved on straight away to the Silesian Station. I was in turmoil wanting to know how the central characters fared in the next volume. Compulsive & hugely satisfying reading.
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