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Zoo Station (John Russell #1)

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  2,539 ratings  ·  305 reviews
By 1939, Anglo-American journalist John Russell has spent fifteen years in Berlin, where his German-born son lives. He writes human-interest pieces for British and American papers, avoiding the investigative journalism that could get him deported. But as war approaches, he faces the prospect of having to leave his son and his longtime girlfriend.

Then, an acquaintance from

...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Soho Press
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Andrew Robins
i don't really know what to think of this book. I like the subject matter, and the main characters are interesting. However, everything is a bit too .... obvious. If you don't know anything about Nazi Germany, you'd probably enjoy it. If you do, though, it will irritate you, as it is to a large degree like reading an O Level history text.

There is no subtlety to it at all. For example, at the start, the main character encounters children geting on a kindertransport at the station in Berlin, and
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Eric_W
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
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Andy
About a 3.8 rounded up to a 4.0, fuller review to follow

First off - A good yarn!

So Whats it about & whose init.....

Their's John Russell, A Brit-journo who resides in Berlin & has done for the past decade or more, his actress g/f, whose German, Also his ex-wife & Son play a central part. The story starts at the turn of 1938 in Danz..... Gdansk ;) where Russell intervenes between a British embassy official escorting Jewish children out of the country & a stormtrooper (SA brownshirt
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Robert Ronsson
I took this book out of the library to read on a return coach trip from the Midlands to Sunderland. (Kidderminster Harriers away to Sunderland in the FA Cup Saturday 25th January 2014.) I chose it because I'm a fan of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series which starts in the same pre-war Berlin setting.
Kerr does the job better. Having written about this period myself I know how easy it is to get carried away by one's research. Whereas Kerr (and I hope, I) evoke the period and the place subtly, Dow
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Rob Kitchin
I enjoyed Zoo Station without being bowled over by it. It’s an interesting story, competently told, with care and attention given to the historical context but lacking in high drama (despite all the potential, I was never 'on the edge of my seat'). The characterization is okay; the people populating the story are in the main ordinary folk trying to get by and the result is that they’re generally not very memorable. John Russell is a reluctant hero; he’s got no quirks or odd traits and he’s polit ...more
Liviu
Some people commented about David Downing's John Russell books as "once you are finished with Alan Furst" and I would not disagree in the sense that they have a clear similarity though also notable differences insofar they follow one main character rather than a largish cast that changes from novel to novel while keeping a sense of connection by cameos and references.

Anyway if you love Alan Furst you will love David Downing for the same minute recreation of the pre-WW2 tense and dark atmosphere,
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Sharon4
I enjoyed this novel, but thought that Downing handled the social, political and emotional ramifications of his character's situation better than the espionage. That side of it is fairly humdrum - meetings with various individuals, some of them downright dodgy, in various places outside Germany, on missions that aren't altogether clear. No doubt that's not far from the truth, but what really grabbed my attention was the background to it all; the increasingly murderous nature of the Nazi regime, ...more
Al
An expatriate English journalist in 1938 Berlin innocently undertakes a series of articles, and finds himself drawn into an increasingly complicated series of related events which culminate in a very gripping conclusion. As good as Alan Furst's best (the highest praise I can give), Zoo Station beautifully evokes the gathering storm in Germany with its combined air of terror and resignation on the part of those living there. The book deals with the escalating persecution of the Jews, the gatheri ...more
Monica
I absolutely loved this book. “Zoo Station” is a spy/espionage book that takes place in 1939, just before Hitler’s utter dominance over Europe is about to be fully exposed. John Russell is a British journalist living in Germany...loving a German actress...and father to 11 year old Paul. Russell is forced to make personal and professional decisions in defence of a Jewish family as well as in support of humanity. Albert, a young Jew, says “I used to wonder how people could be so cruel, but I never ...more
Stephanie
A few years ago my Grandfather started to speak of the war in bits and pieces. He sparked my interst in learning more. I've read several fictional books over the years about the war, but Zoo Station puts the icing on the cake.

What an intellectually fascinating written story of espionage, good and evil and the time leading up to the brink of war. As I got deeper into the story the more intriqued I became by the characters and their situation. This book touched my heart. A must read.

This book was
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Lanirose
This book was slow and he talked too much about which streets he walking on. It was not very descriptive and I did not have a strong sense of the main characters. The time the book took place, pre-WWII, was interesting but there was just no real catching plot. It took me about 100 pages to get into it and even then I could of put it down and started another book, but I'm not one to put a book down no matter how bad it is.
Sandi
While this started slowly and the writing seemed a bit workman-like the suspense kept building and I really came to care about what happened to the various characters in this story set in 1939 Berlin.
John Stivers
My first exposure to David Downing's train station mysteries was a satisfying read. Set in Germany just before the Second World War, it features a main character who risks his life to maintain a semblance of civility and justice in a country under the spell of Nazism and the constant threat of the Gestapo. I'm not sure why the series is named after train stations, other than the fact that the characters spend much time either traveling by rail or eating at restaurants in the stations, but it doe ...more
Doug Shepard
I really wanted to like this novel and I suppose with 3 stars I did. However, Downing creates a milieu based part in fact and part in fiction that promises more. 1938-39 Berlin serves as the back-drop with British journalist John Russell playing the initially unattached protagonist with a german-brit son from a previous marriage and a german girlfriend with a "Jewish" appearance. Drama enough, but add a pinch of Yojimbo when the German, British, and Soviet security agencies attempt to gage the w ...more
Lady
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeanette
This is just the start of his work. There are now 6 Downing Berlin books in this series, that hold titles which are named after those real train stations in the city of Berlin, Germany. Zoo Station is the earliest/first book and introduces John Russell, a foreign correspondent with a German son and German girlfriend. He is English but ends up taking an American citizenship from his birth mother. These books are not fast paced and hold considerable detail to old Berlin, Nazi law's increasing powe ...more
Scot
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. We start off in Danzig in 1939, move chiefly to Berlin, but will visit Poland, Czechia, 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 t
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David
Interesting and readable, not quite a page-turner. Russell's as the main character is probably a bit far-fetched (half US-half UK, ex Communist, film star girlfriend, German son, ability to fool Gestapo and stay onside with both the US and USSR) but the plot and characters are winning. I did feel that occasionally Downing was trying to impress with his geographical knowledge of Berlin and Germany's 1930s neighbours, although the dashes between locations pace the book well.

It's also obvious that
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Andrew
ok first of all I apologise since I read this book after seeing the whole series (well that have been released so far) in the bookshop I help at. I am not aware of its history or how well known it is.
That now out the way I can say I really enjoyed reading it. Maybe because its totally different to the books I have recently been reading or that its a really good read to coin such a shallow term. The book to me opens up the climate and experiences of pre- Second World War Germany and its its horr
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Simon Kelly
I thoroughly enjoyed this book but was left feeling it could have been five stars instead of four if only had that magic ingredient - quite what was lacking I haven't been able to put my finger on.

Previous reviews have been critical of the slightly simplified presentation of the historical context. If you are an expert in the field then probably much writing of a similar genre won't appeal either but as far as I'm concerned I thought the writing evoked a great image of pre war Berlin, the people
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Alessandra Trindle
I almost didn't begin Zoo Station, the first in the John Russell series. It begins at night, and the protagonist is disturbed from sleep by the screams of children. He wanders outside to investigate and finds that it is a train of kindertransport, Jewish children, being removed from Germany and taken to England. The scene is gut-wrenching from the cries of the children, the pleas of the mothers, and the ruthless disdain the Nazi soldiers have for these families.

However, I'm glad I continued, des
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Jim
I do not know how I discovered DAVID DOWNING's ZOO STATION (ISBN 978-1616953485, paperback, $8.99) but boy am I glad I did. His story, the first of a series, is set in pre-WWII Germany and neighboring countries. There is high caliber tension on every page.

John Russell is a British freelance journalist and former Communist sympathizer living in Berlin. The story opens a short time before New Year's Eve 1938. John's mother is American, his father English, his ex-wife German and his twelve year ol
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Natalie
Picked this up in a whim in the library and so glad I did. I don't normally read crime thrillers (which I think would be the category this one fell under) but I was fascinated by the story laid out in Zoo Station and the fantastic background research on the times and place that lets it all flow so well. Set just before WWII, John Russell is a journalist living in Germany. Although he is English he has a German girlfriend and a German son from a previous marriage and you get a real sense of Germa ...more
Corny
The time is Berlin 1939. John Russell is a British Journalist, first WWW I Veteran, former 1920's Communist Party member. Russell also has a German actress girl friend and is divorced from a German woman with whom he has an 11 year old son (in the Hitler Youth!). This is just the starting point for a complex atmospheric thriller set mostly in Hitler's Germany, plus assorted nearby countries. The writing is intelligent and blackly humorous and the characters are varied and well drawn. I am not su ...more
Alex Marshall
Maybe I've read one too many "krimis" about Nazi Germany, but this one struck me as a bit voyeuristic. The colour of the time and place is well done, the characters are well drawn and so forth, with the requisite horror and heart-string-pulling, but nothing sort of, well, happens. These things are supposed to move along at a fair clip, the hero is supposed to get into and out of tight places, the girl is either got or lost or maybe both, and so on. We all know the formula. Maybe the writer gets ...more
Forthbridge
The book is set in pre War Berlin and the plot involves a journalist plying his trade which is to describe the unfolding horrors of the Nazi regime. His challenge is to keep some sort of integrity as a human and a journalist whilst avoiding the gory end which befell his neighbor, an affable American newspaperman. Downing writes well. If you like the excellent Alan Furst, you will most likely like Downing.
Ray
This was a great read, and while the first half was a little slow going, I found myself staying up much too late for the second half. The subject matter of this book and its focus on the every day life of people trying to negotiate their existence within the context of Nazi Germany remained me of the novels of Alan Furst. Knowing the outcome of Nazi persecution of Jews, i found myself struggling with people's relative blindness to signs of the approaching holocaust. However, it reminded me of hu ...more
Sho
I'm a sucker for pre-war spy-type stories so this seemed like a good idea. My memories of Berlin centre mainly around a few trips while the wall was still up and my juvenile dream to be a spy.

Downing has obviously done his homework (well, I'm assumming he has since I am not going to check up all the "he turned left into Friedrichstrasse" or "stood on platform 7 of the Zoo station and bought burnt almonds". Life really is too short.

I know that he means to add depth and colour to an otherwise not
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Geevee
A well written and engaging evocation of Nazi Germany in the last years before war that involves a British ex-communist journalist living in Germany, with a son by a German ex-wife, who becomes entwined in people's lives affected by hatred and death, and touches espionage and personal risk to change their lives and possibly his for ever.
Brian
This was a great read, if you can get past the Nazi atrocities. The main character is not your typical 'spy,' but just a clever man in a horrible situation. It will be interesting to see where the other books in this series go from here. I'll be reading the next one, right after I read something a bit lighter.
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David Downing is the author of a political thriller, two alternative histories and a number of books on military and political history and other subjects as diverse as Neil Young and Russian Football.
More about David Downing...
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“the remark of a Middlesex Regiment officer in 1918. “Intelligence services,” the man had said, “are prone to looking up their own arses and wondering why it’s dark.” 0 likes
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