Zoo Station (John Russell, #1)
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Zoo Station (John Russell #1)

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  2,165 ratings  ·  274 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

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Soho Press (first published January 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

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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...more
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...more
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
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,...more
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...more
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
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
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
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...more
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
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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
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
Jul 17, 2014 Tracey added it
I was sent a free advance copy of this book to review for Lovereading.co.uk

The story spans 24 years, from the end of the war to the swinging ‘60s and we are taken through it from the perspective of five of the main characters -Nick, Daisy, Helena, Hughes and Ed. ‘Tigers’ is the name of the family house on Martha’s vineyard that they visit each summer and it is here that the incident that reverberates through the book, takes place. The use of different individuals to tell the story is well done –...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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Although I rarely read books in the spy genre, the quality of this book might open me to exploring similar books. Zoo Station is the first of a series of eight set in the late '30s and early '40s in Germany. The book centers on Anglo-American journalist John Russell. Although by no means naive, he slowly becomes involved in activities that might place his life in danger. With finely sketched believable characters and a plausible story arc, Zoo Station became far more engrossing than I would have...more
Not a bad espionage story, albeit obviously the first in a series. However, more evocative is the description of life in Germany in 1939, with the political machinations in the background and the feeling of tension and fear which Downing gets very well. I'll definitely read the next in the series.
Luke McCallin
I'm not sure what to think of this book, and indeed all the 'Station' novels (and in reviewing 'Zoo Station' I'm reviewing the series). They certainly have their moments--kidnapped Jewish girls enslaved in an SS-run brothel was one of them--as well as a handful of central characters that you care for and root for. Sometimes, though, it just felt like 'something' was missing, and perhaps that impression is due to my failings as a reader more than any failings of Mr. Downing as an author of what a...more
Thrift store impulse purchase.

I enjoyed this book; while the plot line was pretty straight forward, the characters and details made it a satisfying read for me. Didn't know a great deal of detail on some of the ships etc., and liked the moral ambiguity of the situation for the protagonist.

That said, I don't feel the urge to rush and get another of this author's books (this being the first in a at-least six book series)---which is how I usually feel after reading a book by Furst, who covers sim...more
This is the 2nd book written by David Downing I have read. Each one is very fascinating. This one is no exception. Downing is a good writer and includes small details to help the reader form pictures in their mind of what scenes would look like.
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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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