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A punch in the gut
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.