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Zoo Station by David Downing

Zoo Station (2000)

by David Downing

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: John Russell (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4422023,705 (3.82)182
Recently added byprivate library, LoriAnnK, marymcl, sarglib, apostate, CMiller600, jburlinson, kvrfan, MeadowoodLibrary
  1. 10
    The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Family men caught in the uncertainties of Nazi Berlin with intrigue and mysteries thrown in. Sleepwalkers is set in 1933; Zoo Station in 1939.
  2. 00
    Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (majkia)
    majkia: similar books in that they focus on ordinary people swept up into becoming spies.

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» See also 182 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Altogether a decent enough page turner. I have some friends who just love this author and the John Russell series and they pore over old Baedeckers and maps of Berlin etc., delighting whenever they find evidence of the many (!!!) street names and landmarks. Downing certainly does know how to pad: while most paragraphs, and many pages, fail to carry the plot forward in any appreciable degree, he is able to insert something that adds a bit to the reader's store of not uninteresting facts. As for larger meanings, if anyone is in doubt that, on the whole, nazis were rotters and being a good father is a good thing, this book might be of assistance. ( )
  jburlinson | Apr 26, 2015 |
A quite satisfying novel. John Russell is an English journalist in Berlin prior to the onset of World War II. He is no idealist, and with a girlfriend who is German and a son who is in the Hitler Youth he feels ties to Germany, but his conscience gets the best of him when Nazi brutality hits those close to him.

This is an atmospheric novel where the gloom of the Nazi shadow is palpable, but it is not as dense as some of Alan Furst's books, and Downing knows how to ratchet the tension up to sweaty-palm levels.

The first book in a series, I'm eager to pick up the next one. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
The first book in an ongoing series featuring an English journalist, John Russell, living and working in pre-WWII Germany. He has a young son, Paul, from a failed marriage to a German woman. Like all boys his age, Paul is a member of the Hitler Youth but he still gets to see him on a regular basis. Russell is also very involved with Effi, a German actress and with everything pointing towards a forthcoming war he doesn't want to provoke the ire of the administration which would lose him his job and to face probable deportation which would cause him to lose contact with those he loves. That's why he's loath to get involved when an American colleague asks for his help on a story that may shed light on the Nazi brutality but as he's only acting as an interpreter for an interview with a nurse who has some vital information he reluctantly agrees. Later, when his colleague is found dead by apparent suicide, Russell's conscience is pricked into taking action of his own. He's also been approached by an agent of the Russian NKVD to write a series of positive articles on the Nazi regime to help soften up the Soviet people to accept a non-aggression pact with Germany. As he'll probably need all the help he can get to remain in the country in future Russell agrees to write the articles. As if this wasn't enough, Russell also teaches English and he's just been asked to help a Jewish family as they prepare to emigrate to England. What could possibly go wrong?

This is very much an opening book for a series with the first half of this story more involved with setting the scene and atmosphere of the times and laying out the groundwork for future instalments. Despite the slow build-up it's not a dull read as there was enough going on to keep me enthralled in the action. Very similar in this respect to Alan Furst's series of espionage novels which I've also enjoyed immensely (the ones I've read so far that is). It's a very well written character study set amidst rising tensions with a credible lead who has to make some tough decisions in order to keep his head above water and still be able to remain in the place he wants to be. Definitely a series that I intend to continue with in the future. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Dec 27, 2014 |
David Downing has written a series of novels about an English journalist in Berlin during WW II. In Zoo Station, the first of the series, John Russell, is in Danzig when he’s approached by a Soviet NKVD agent offering him a lot of money for a series of articles that portrayed Naziism in a positive light. Russell is an Englishman, a former Communist, who fought in WW I, having married (now estranged) a German woman. His son, Paul, born in Germany, is a member of the Hitler Youth.

Russell suspects the Russians might be laying the groundwork for a future non-aggression pact. Then the Nazis approve, having their own motivation. Both sides want him to report whatever he might learn about the other side’s interests. So Russell is walking a tight-rope as the Russians demand more (no surprise), but Russell uses that for his own ends.

Some reviewers have complained there is no action and that the book is just a litany of Nazi evils with too much journal-like writing. I disagree. What Downing has done is to present the horrifying atmosphere and story of a people gradually being subjugated (often quite willingly) by a group of thugs. At what point are we willing to resist and what motives lead us to participate or push back. There’s the story of the mother who discovers her retarded daughter has been pegged for euthanasia by the state as part of their ethnic-cleansing and the father who reports his Down-Syndrome children precisely because he wants the child to disappear. The recurring theme is the failure of ordinary people to resist.

What makes this series (at least this first book that I’ve read in the series) interesting, as with Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books, is the sense of place, the paranoia and fear of living in a repressive regime, and the difficulties faced by relatively ordinary people during that time of crisis. I’m reading Traitor’s Gate by Michael Ridpath, which has similar themes.

I will be reading the other volumes. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Aug 26, 2014 |
I am definitely a fan of this series and will keep reading. The author knows the places he describes well, and he also has deep understanding of the culture and range of social nuances appropriate to this volatile and complex setting, too. The story start off in Danzig in 1939, move chiefly to Berlin, but will visit Poland, Czech, northern Germany and even England during the course of the novel as well.

The main character is John Russell, an Anglo-American forty year old journalist with complex ties to Germany that include a twelve year old son in the Hitler Youth and a strong willed actress girlfriend. He is fluent in Russian, German, and English, and is wise enough to see both the growing dangers the Nazis represent and the growing dangers to those who openly challenge them. He does not not see himself as heroic, but is a man of principle. Given whom he knows and where he goes, he becomes increasingly useful to representatives of different nations and political perspectives. Downing builds suspense at a slow but sure speed. ( )
  Hanneri | Apr 7, 2014 |
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David Downingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The wind gave no warning of the ghastly discovery.
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When an old acquaintance turns up at his hotel, John Russell's life begins to change. Gradually he is persuaded by a combination of threats and financial need, and appeals to his conscience to become a spy - first for the Soviet Union and then, simultaneously, for the British.… (more)

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