Review: Zoo Station, Book One in the John Russell Series by David Downing

Title: Zoo Station, First Book in John Russell Series
Author: David Downing
Publisher: Soho Press, Inc. May 2007
Genre: Fiction
Labels: World War II, Holocaust, Nazi Germany, Berlin, Spies, Communism, Journalism, Espionage, Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Age: Adult
Pages: 304
Rating: 4 Stars

Zoo Station, is book one in a series of five books that I've read over the past three weeks. Book six Masaryk Station will be available @ Amazon June 18. I plan to read this book as well. I've loved all the Station books by David Downing, they are just my type of read. 

Berlin, Germany 1938-1939
John Russell is American born with strong English ties, World War I Veteran, divorced with one adolescent son named Paul, in a committed relationship with a German actress, an ex-patriot living in Berlin, and working as a journalist.
When the book begins 1938 will end in a couple of hours. There is an "absence of a festive spirit." People are uneasy in what the new year will bring to Germany. John is offered a paying job by an old Russian colleague. This work will entail writing "a series of articles" on the Nazi Party. John is also asked to gather other types of information. John is at first reluctant, but a paying job during a time of uncertainty will be security....he hopes. 
John's lovely girlfriend Effi is busy making German films. She loathes the Nazi Party, but wants a paying job.
Both John and Effi worry about the future. How will the threatening climate of the Nazi Party affect their families, friends, jobs, and their beloved Berlin? Who is trustworthy? Even family and friends have been known to turn-in those they find are against the Nazi belief system.

My Thoughts:
John Russell is an imperfect character. I like that. Why? Because his imperfect nature gives a freshness and a realness to these series of books. It also gives an unpredictable nature to the stories. In his heart his priorities and motivations are his son, Effi, a good story, friends, and his survival comes last. His way of going about these priorities should not be compared to a pristine "polished pair of boots". He works all the angles. Then he frets over whether the right decision has been made.
Zoo Station, lays the ground work for the future books. I did not read the books in numerical order, I had to wait till my library had them available. I didn't have a problem reading out of sequence. I did have a few questions about John's background, various people that are remarked on in later books. When I was able to read Zoo Station, it all came together for me. If you're unable to read the book in sequence don't worry, but if you can it will help.

Why I gave Zoo Station 4 stars:
  • As a journalist the main character John has a keen intuitive eye for a story. He seems to be in the right place at the right time in order to see events that will become a story for him. 
  • The author David Downing's writing style has great descriptive details, giving me a candid view of:  Berlin, Germany, Nazi's, Jewish people, civilians, the building crisis, and various political groups scavenging for information.
  • Graphically depicted and making a strong impression on me: the assaults, abuse, murders of Jewish people, the mentally handicapped, those in asylums, those the Nazi's considered non-Aryan and not perfect.
  • John's faithful love for Effi and for his son. 
  • John's travels through Germany; I too traveled with him. This gave me a panoramic view of what was going on in Germany at this time.
For those interested, the book has curse words, no sexual acts described. If I were going to rate this book as a movie I'd give it a PG 13.

Link @ Amazon:
Kindle $3.82
File:Berlin-Charlottenburg Postkarte 074.jpg
Bahnhof Station 1900


  1. I have the first few books in this series waiting to be read, so I'm glad you're enjoying this series. Sounds like John is an interesting character, and the writing is well done. Great reviews!


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