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VINE VOICEon 24 February 2009
I have been waiting for something like this for almost 20 years. A series about pre-war Germany that actually makes you feel that you are there.
Not since Phillip Kerr has someone come along who has created a character and stories to equal his Bernie Gunther series.

I read Zoo Station before Christmas and held out on reading this so that I could enjoy this and prepeare for the what will hopefully be the third in the series later this year.

I read this while recovering from the flu and kept my wife amused as I purred, laughed and sighed my way through the book. It immediately brought back my own visits to Berlin (though not that long ago). You can smell the food, beer and see the sights as you read the book.

Russell is again caught in a vice between the German, Russian and American intelligence services. In between times he has a missing Jewsess to locate. All this is set against the impending war that everyone knows, and fears, is coming.

We follow Russell as he travels around Eastern Europe, taking in an occupied Czech republic, an "autonomous" Slovak republic, a pre=invasion Warsaw and Moscow just as the non agression treaty is agreed.

We meet spies, policemen, actresses and ordinary people struggling to survive in "the cage" - as Nazi Germany was known to those who lived there.

There is not only a thriller here but moments of comedy that surface without warning; moments where your heart is squeezed and, hidden away, small stories of everyday events that really happened.

Buy this and enjoy a great read by a superb author who really knows his craft and his historical place.
28 people found this helpful
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on 23 February 2015
Second in the series, and it ends where I expected the first to end. It starts a few weeks on from where the previous book left off. In late July 1939 John Russell is returning to Germany from America by boat with his son.

Definitely an interesting read, Downing has clearly done his research well. There is a fantastic period feel to it. Especially the embuggerance around the travelling to and from Poland. The places and the people are very well described, and the latter are well observed and seem real. The danger in the air from unguarded comments is real for these characters, and they are mainly circumspect with strangers.

I was also pleased to see how Russell’s film star girlfriend develops too. She starts the story with a few days booked into the Gestapo‘s finest basement hotel. While this is a cynical manipulation by the Gestapo to put pressure on Russell it has a noticeable effect on Effi Koenen. Effi gets radicalised, and she becomes part of the plot in a more active way. This allows for a slightly wider perspective on events as well as more discussion between characters.

The action picks up a gear too as this book progresses. As well as the SD and the Soviets wanting Russell to work for them the Americans get in on the act too. Russell tries his best to skirt around all of it, pleasing those he cannot avoid and avoiding ending up in a nazi concentration camp. All the while he observes and reports on the changes within Germany. Towards the end he starts to get more involved in helping people to escape, his humanity won’t allow him to stand by and watch the Jews get persecuted.

The finale is pretty bloody, but the outbreak of war seems to overshadow the climax. I went straight into the third in the series off the back of it.
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on 15 November 2017
Really starting to get into this John Russell series with all the main characters developing nicely as we progress through the books so far. A great story weaving a few plots together as the book goes on.
The only reason i am not giving 5 stars is the over descriptive nature whenever Russell takes a trip across Berlin, we seem to get an A to Z of the journey giving all the street names travelled, do we really need to know this!
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VINE VOICEon 5 April 2011
The second book in the Station series is as tightly written as the first, but much darker. We are quickly drawn into Berlin in summer 1939, just before the War, and whilst on the surface life is good for John Russell, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he is asked to look into the disappearance of a young Jewish girl. This is one story arc, and one that ends with imagination and pace towards the end of the book.

As with the first book, espionage plays a part and at times it's easy to forget who is playing off who, and who is getting fake information and who knows what. But that does take us on a whistlestop tour of central and eastern Europe during the days of quickening Nazi occupation and aggression, again Downing paints a very involving, gripping picture - all the more so if you have been to Berlin or any of the other cities mentioned.

Another theme of the book is the thoughts and words of ordinary Germans during this era - yes there is some licence here, but it's a good reminder that fundamentally we are all the same and few people look forward to war...

In all, an intricately-woven web of a story that manages to grip and entertain, without being too heavy - considering the subject matter. Now on to book three...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 October 2013
I prefer a good crime novel but having read Zoo Station I decided to buy the others in the series when they were on special. Silesian Station covers events in Berlin in the summer of 1939. John Russell, the protagonist, is caught up in the intelligence business - blackmailed by the Nazis into giving the Russians false intelligence reports but doing a little side work for the Americans. There is also a subplot about a missing Jewish girl but that I found less than convincing. What I like about these books is that John Russell willingly works for the Russians. This is a novel approach and probably more realistic than just spying for the Brits. It highlights the "anybody but the Nazis" approach that I suspect many thinking people adopted. The atmospheric detail is very good. I felt that I was in pre war Berlin and Eastern Europe with all it's inconveniences and sense of threat.
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on 11 July 2012
There's a lot to like about Silesian Station and it's a step up from the first book in the series, Zoo Station. The characterization is richer and more keenly observed, and the plotting is excellent, interweaving a number of strands that collectively keep the dramatic tension high throughout the story. The historical context is well realised, both in relation to the larger macro-politics across the continent in the lead up to the start of hostilities, but also the everyday realities with respect to the diverse circumstances and views of people within communities, and how politics and communal relations played out in different locales (Berlin, the Polish border, Moscow, Prague and so on). Whilst the prose is quite workman-like, Downing nevertheless captures the sights and sounds, the cinema and cafes, the streets and apartment living, the fashions and pastimes, and the hopes and fears of people in difficult situations. The result is a rich, rewarding and entertaining read that steadily builds in tension and is satisfyingly resolved.
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on 25 August 2010
I bought this book because I had devoured Zoo Station in a thrilling three nights reading till 2 in the morning. David Downing is an author I discovered while reading reviews of one of Alan Furst's books - one of my favourite authors - and I can't thank that reviewer enough, Downing is a treasured find. Furst's novels are set in the cauldron of Paris around the outbreak of WW2, and Downings in Berlin. Furst's writing is very spare, and it's essential that you pay close attention to every word and nuance, whereas Downing is a much more relaxed read and perhaps would have a wider appeal. His characters resonated with me, I could feel the sweat and fear, and the increasing panic that you hoped desperately would not affect the crucial decisions the character would have to make in the next few seconds.

Who to trust, who definitely not to trust, what avenue offers the safest option for survival - or is there a safe option, and there's only luck, experience and intuition to be relied upon. Then, who to save from the Nazis, whose malign intent was becoming more and more clear. And, added to the fear for these characters you have come to know and feel for as they cope with the cascading descent into anarchy, there is John Russell himself (in whose footsteps we tread), and his hopes and fears for those closest to him.

The author is very comfortable in this period, and to achieve this level of comfort must have meant a huge amount of research for him, not only in the several areas visited, but also the unrolling political situation and what the world press was making of it.

Can't wait to order Stettin Station - and hope there are more books by this author in the offing...
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on 26 May 2015
I'm not going to review every one of the Station series, though some are marginally better than others. To my way of thinking, they can only be appreciated as a series - a bit like Trollope's Barchester series. In this respect Downing's station books, though slow paced create a sense of being there, the realism unobtrusive (other than his obsession with street names which put me in mind of Gore Vidal's 'Lincoln') but all pervasive. For me the best book dealt with the fall of Berlin. So yes, I thoroughly liked them but appreciated them the more after reading them all
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on 4 March 2016
A friend recommended this book, and I bought it immediately but only started reading it around 3 months later, and could not put it down. To me David Downing provided a deep insight into the buildup of the 2nd WW. I was able to feel that I was in Berlin when these events were happening, having visited Berlin recently. The story is well told, and I have recommended the book to friends. I have also read the second book in the Zoo Station series, and i intend to read the rest of them soon. It is truly a compelling read.
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on 3 April 2011
The book starts with a young Jewish girl making a journey to Berlin.

The mystery of what happened to her, and why she never arrived, runs through the book, as John Russell investigates with his girlfriend Effi.

The book describes his travels and experiences, in Berlin and Eastern Europe, as a journalist in the weeks before war breaks out, and how this affects him and Effi. He is recruited as an agent by the German SD, the US and the Soviets, and walks a fine line between his principles and their demands and threats.

The different threads of the story entwine together until a nail-biting climax is reached in the last few pages, just as war is declared.

As well as being an excellent thriller, this book evokes the feelings and atmosphere of a country and a people being inexorably drawn into a war by their leaders, and the last weeks of peacetime life in Berlin. After reading this book you will never again believe that Hitler made the trains run on time!
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