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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 24 June 2017
I've read a couple of the John Russell books by David Downing, and John seems like a real person, with anxieties about having to tread a fine line with Nazis in complete control and authority. The writing is excellent and characters very believable
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on 12 March 2017
Product very good as expected
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on 2 January 2014
This is my favourite, so far, in the Station series. Now well into WWII and Berlin is feeling like a dangerous place for John Russell. Good atmospheric descriptions and a real feel for the time and place. Have to buy the next one now.
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on 21 July 2017
A good read keeps you interested. I didn't want to put the book down.
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on 30 April 2017
Not as good as the previous 2 books
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on 7 January 2015
Well written really enjoyed
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VINE VOICEon 13 April 2012
I like David Downing's works, but I found myself disappointed by this, the third book in the series.
It is partly not Downing's fault. As his main character, the journalist John Russell and his partner struggle to survive in 1941's Berlin, the tone is grimmer and greyer than before.
Rationing is worse, the Gestapo are everywhere and thousands of Jews are being sent to their deaths in the East, so it was never going to be a comedy.
But the central plot is a stilted affair. Basically the net is tightening around Russell because of his earlier work for the Communist underground, and now he is forced to try and flee Germany one step ahead of the Gestapo. The trouble is, this is a plot development that is heavily signalled, and then grinds slowly on. I found myself waiting for the novel to resolve itself one way or another on this.
I think Downing conveys very well the grimness of the times, but I didn't find myself drawn into the book as I had been with the previous two in the series.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 December 2014
Set in Berlin at the end of 1941, this novel follows Zoo Station and Silesian Station in describing the exploits of British-American journalist and foreign correspondent, John Russell, and his film actress girlfriend, Effi Koenen, who is a part of Goebbel’s propaganda empire. This is the first of David Downing’s books that I have read.

Fighting on the Eastern front is proving difficult, the battles in North Africa is confused and the US’s entry into the war gets closer by the day. German spokesmen put a positive gloss on all these areas of actual and potential conflict. Whilst attending daily press conferences and filing innocuous stories, Russell worries about his 14-year old son, Paul, who has joined the Hitler Youth and is participating in weekend shooting and trailing activities.

In this book, Russell is using his Communist underground network contacts to find out what is happening to the trainloads of Jews who are being sent east. Meanwhile Koenen has become disillusioned by the scripts that she is being given that, increasingly, limit her acting skills to subvert their text.

Russell finds himself caught up in the deadly rivalry the between Admiral Canaris, Head of the Abwehr, and Reinhard Heydrich and the Sicherheitsdienst, SD. He is also approached as a contact between Canaris and American intelligence. Russell is desperate to get Koenen and himself out of the country but her profile makes this difficult. Of course, he could leave her and Paul behind in Berlin but then it might be years until they were able to meet again. Then an opportunity arises for him to leave for Switzerland, but at a price.

The author’s knowledge of the period is very detailed and is presented in a very accessible manner. The detail is evident through the chants of a local football team, people listening to the BBC in secret, the separation of Jews and Germans in underground bomb shelters, the limited fare available in restaurants and dancehalls, requests for women to send fur coats to soldiers fighting the Russians, crowds paying respect to a German air ace, the occasional appearances of Goering, Ribbentrop and Goebbels, and the description of an American reporter who delivers anti-American propaganda to the German republic and begins to realize what might happen to him if the Germans lose the war. We also learn that German railway engines froze in Russia because their their pipes were externally located, unlike Russian engines, and their water tanks were too small to cope with the the longer distances between Soviet water towers.

A number of the minor characters populating the worlds that Russell and Koenen operate in are historical characters [Downing offers a link to find out about the detailed historical background]. The German characters run the gamit of die-hard Nazis through those who would rather not face the reality of the Third Reich to those actively seeking its overthrow.

The plot is not the strongest and is probably best seen as a stage in the development of the series. Readers seeking action may be disappointed by the first half of the book in which we follow Russell in his daily activities that, for some, may be unduly repetitive. However, Russell’s unusual position, holding British and American passport, working in Berlin at a time of increasing likelihood that America will forego its isolationist position [nicely underscored by regular updates on the Japanese navy’s approach to Pearl Harbor] is particularly fascinating.

When the tension at last begins to build, Downing handles it very effectively. The dispiriting atmosphere in Berlin is beautifully described – as news filters in about the disastrous fighting in Russia, bodies and wounded return, food and petrol are restricted, transportation is unreliable and Allied bombing seems randomly targeted. On the ground the numbers of police of various kinds increase to ensure that the Berliners are kept under control by the fear of knocks on the door and disappearances. Prominently parked Gestapo vehicles are just one obvious warning.

Readers with a knowledge of postwar Berlin, or who subsequently visited the crumbling ‘Hauptstadt der DDR’ will feel that they know where Russell is going, along streets shrouded in blackouts, alighting at busy U-Bahn stations.

A considerable backstory about Russell and Koenen is carried forward into this third novel so that it would be much better to read the books in sequence, especially as the series has now concluded with a sixth book in 2013, 8/10.
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