14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Credible look at pre-WWII Germany,
This review is from: Zoo Station (John Russell 1) (Paperback)
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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