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on 1 April 2017
Zoo Station is the first in the John Russell Series. Russell is a British Journalist based in Germany, who travels widely in continental Europe.

The Story starts in Dansik on new years eve 1938, where he witnesses the departure of a kinder transport, where he intervenes to help a British Red Cross nurse has somehow upset a brown-shirt. He is also approached by the Soviets who would like him to write a couple of articles. Later in the book he helps a jewish family to escape the Reich following the death of their father.

I enjoyed this book, I have both the audio and print versions. Some reviewers have suggested that Zoo Station is lite on historical accuracy, lacks depth and is predictable. Possibly, these Criticisms are fair but I would suggest that people look for different things in books. If you want a read which is not over taxing then this is a book and indeed a series for you.

Simon Prebble does fine job of narration in the audio version
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on 28 August 2015
I came to this novel with no previous knowledge of David Downing’s work, inspired by favourable comparisons with Robert Harris’ books, which I have much enjoyed.

“Zoo Station”, I found wholly absorbing. Particularly, I found the low-key, understated writing, shunning cheap sensationalism most refreshing. A strong sense of pre-war Germany and particularly Berlin is built up via close, detailed, concrete particulars and from early on exerts a compelling sense of authenticity. In comparison with say, John Le Carre, the plot is relatively straightforward, but suspense is not what holds attention, at least for me. The characters are convincing, their attitudes to the world that is absorbing them often complex as well as plausible. My only reservation is that some of the English constructions are bordering on the bizarre and errors such as the persistent use of “different than” are an irritant.

Nonetheless, without in any way straining for effects or resorting to over-dramatisation, Downing takes us into an increasingly chilling world, a world in which the shadow of the horrors to come looms ever darker. I look forward to discovering how he develops his themes and characters in his subsequent novels.
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on 21 April 2014
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. And pull more or less straight out again, having noticed not very much at all. Respectfully but most strongly disagree with the reviewer who rates Downing above Kerr. Yes, good research and a more or less convincing evocation of Berlin's atmosphere in the early weeks of 1939, but as far as character, plot, tension and credibility goes, Downing is left far behind by Kerr, in my humble opinion. Russell is a dull character with whom we feel very little identification, the plot lurches from pillar to post without ever really engaging us, and hey presto, all of a sudden it's over. Is that it? One is tempted to ask. Truth is, where Kerr wins over pretty much every other crime novelist of his generation (maybe Downing doesn't want to be considered in that genre, in which case he's doing OK), is that he is clearly steeped in the very best tradition of Chandler and Hammett, and his wisecracking but morally deeply compromised character is loveable, funny, surprising and entirely believable. Colour, light and shadow, and a full cast of entirely convincing characters. Downing is 2-dimensional by comparison. Will I be straight on to the other stations with as much alacrity as I followed Bernie? Nope, not a chance.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 16 September 2013
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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on 24 January 2011
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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on 2 October 2017
Being a great fan of Phillip Kerrs Bernie Gunther series, this was suggested as a "you also might like" thank you Amazon you were spot on.
This is a great start to hopefully a great series of stories. This novel is set just before the breakout of the Second world War, the story reveals the build up of tension about every aspect of your life on how you had to be so careful of all your actions, not to arouse the suspicions of other folk, or the authorities. ( even finding a place to burn a few pieces of paper outdoors!) sounds insignificant, but the reasons behind this and the way it is described really builds the tension.
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on 11 November 2017
Cover Fine creates an atmosphere. 4/5

Contents. This book was a recommended read from a writing buddy. I read it a few weeks ago now and am sad to say I only recall the contents of the book in outline. I reached the end underwhelmed with no great interest in reading more of his books.

I reread fatherland by Robert Harris recently and measure books about Nazi Germany against this book. Zoo Station falls short.

Alexander of the Allrighters' and Ywnwab!

.
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VINE VOICEon 7 November 2013
Unwisely, I started reading the "Station" series out of order and was left with an unfavourable impression of David Downing's series. However, starting where I should have done - with Zoo Station - I can now appreciate the sense of atmosphere and mood that is built in this opening book, and it's impressively done.

John Russell is a good vehicle as a character: a journalist based in Berlin he can explore the social and political events taking place from a slightly distanced view and, of course, become embroiled in events as they unfold. Set in 1939, this first book captures the sense of menace and inevitability about the impending war, the suspicions and manoueverings of the politicians and spymasters, and the impact that the Nazi regime was having in several areas of society.

Downing packs in a lot, and at times it does feel like an extended travelogue, with Russell touring parts of Europe by various means recorded in some detail that just about managed to stay the right side of becoming anorakish.

Overall, the content and style of Zoo Station is impressive though, a strong opener in a series that I will now work through in the correct sequence. It sounds an obvious point to make, but where as with some "series" novels they can be read as standalone works, here I think it is important to follow them in order.
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on 24 September 2013
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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on 31 December 2014
Loved it! I came across this as a suggestion and read some of the reviews which persuaded me to give it a go.

The writing is superb and totally absorbs you. The main character is believable and the story flows incredibly well. I know that his love life and financial situation are good but I find this a welcome relief from some of the more gritty 'drinks hard - never eats - has no real relationship or plenty of them style.'

I am a huge Bernie Gunther fan but do find this writer equally absorbing on this showing with a very different style and content. The only real similarity is the backdrop and the constant juggling not to get arrested or shot!

I've already purchased and am reading Silesian Station which seems to have the same high standard!
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