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Zoo Station (John Russell #1)

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  4,562 Ratings  ·  458 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
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Community Reviews

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Andrew Robins
Dec 08, 2011 Andrew Robins rated it it was ok
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
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
I was very pleasantly surprised by this mystery/ thriller. I rarely give 5 - star ratings to mystery/ thrillers, but this was an such an engrossing story. It's my first book by David Downing, the first in his John Russell series. Russell is a British reporter living in Berlin just before WWII as the Nazis are consolidating power in the country and beginning to make waves in the world. He's a bit of a cynic, reporting on small items, making ends meet, living with his girl friend, German actress, ...more
Jan 25, 2017 Don rated it liked it
Imagine the recurring (older) SNL skit "The Californians" reimagined in pre-WWII Berlin and you've got 80% of this book. Sprinkle in some historical tidbits, a fairly mundane plot and surprisingly frequent descriptions of our main character either drinking coffee, considering drinking coffee or hoping that he doesn't get invited for coffee and you've got the outline for a historical-mystery series; the titular theme of which appears to be train station names.

That's not to say it's not an enjoyab
Aug 23, 2009 Liviu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mainstream, read_2009
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,
May 28, 2017 G.J. rated it really liked it
Shelves: spy-thriller
I enjoyed this novel, though it seemed to take me a long time to finish it ! The author undoubtedly did a great deal of research of Berlin in the pre war period and the reader can gain a feeling of how life went on and how Berliners dealt with the rapidly changing situation. I came to like Russell and his compassion showed, particularly as the story progressed. My only gripe of this book was its extensive use of Street/Road names which added very little to the story and indeed made me put the bo ...more
Jun 21, 2014 Eric_W rated it really liked it
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
Mar 31, 2013 Andy rated it really liked it
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
Nov 13, 2012 Jeanette rated it really liked it
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
Rob Kitchin
Aug 11, 2012 Rob Kitchin rated it liked it
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
Nov 21, 2013 Joe rated it did not like it
Shelves: mystery-thriller
Thriller on Training Wheels

This novel fits into the fiction category I call Casablanca Lite - the emphasis on Lite. The protagonist in this type of story finds himself surrounded by the evils of Nazi Germany and at first reluctantly and then finally whole-heartedly picks up his sword and fights the good fight.

In Zoo Station, our hero John Russell, is a British journalist - not a cynical and jaded café proprietor - based in pre-WWII Germany who wields a pen and a press pass rather than the above
Bonnie Murrow
Dec 14, 2016 Bonnie Murrow rated it really liked it
Shelves: downing-david, 2016
For those who aren't worried about what's happening in our politics, read this book. Very quotable - my favorite in a discussion of intellectuals in Germany "being right doesn't matter any more."

Just before Jews were exterminated and Hitler invaded his neighbors. Pay attention, America.
Apr 22, 2013 Speesh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: between-the-wars
You'll like Zoo Station, if you like Philip Kerr's 'Bernie Gunther' stories or Robert Harris' 'Fatherland'. If you like Alan Furst.

If you like thrillers set in Europe the years leading up to the outbreak of WWII.

If you'd like a tantalizing glimpse into a somewhat forgotten - and in many ways, misunderstood - world.

Zoo Station, the first in David Downing's Zoo series, is a really rather wonderful and absorbing period piece. In essence; a small tale set against a much bigger, darker backdrop. Invo
Sep 06, 2011 Monica rated it it was amazing
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
May 13, 2011 Sharon4 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2017 Bronwyn rated it liked it
If you like Alan Furst, check this out. English journalist wrestles with his conscience and complicity whilst living in post-Kristallnacht/pre-WWII Berlin. Sedate, thoughtful, with a slow burn tension.

One wonders why I'm currently attracted to novels about creeping fascism...
Nov 17, 2010 Al rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 21, 2012 Lanirose rated it it was ok
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.
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.
Aug 16, 2015 Claude rated it really liked it
Just finished Zoo Station which takes place in the Berlin of 1939, as Hitler is making his moves towards the invasion of Europe.
I found this novel so good that I can't wait to read Silesian Station.
Ben Smither
Feb 25, 2017 Ben Smither rated it liked it
Shelves: finished-fiction
Nothing like some light reading about the rise of a fascist dictator who slowly convinced and bullied an entire nation into believing everything he said and did was right.
May 01, 2011 Lady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Justin HC
Feb 18, 2017 Justin HC rated it really liked it
Too real, too relevant. Nothing all that major happens, which adds to the horror of the creeping Nazi regime. Would recommend.
James Kemp
Jan 20, 2015 James Kemp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book that I have read entirely in 2015.

Amazon had the whole series as a deal of the day for 99p each. I’d had this one, the first in the series, for a little while so I dipped in to see if the rest were worth buying. I got hooked and spent a fiver!

I bought this one as an amazon recommendation. I’ve been buying first hand accounts and histories of the SOE for decades. I picked up the pace a bit a year ago when doing background reading for the short story Hunting Nazis which I us
John Russell is a man with tangled loyalties. Living in Berlin as war looms, he's an Englishman with an American mother, a German girlfriend and a German son. With Russell's complicated situation and the atmospheric backdrop, this novel should be tense and thrilling, but it's not.

Nothing much seems to happen. Russell travels a lot, but there are too many descriptions of how he gets from A to B and him checking into hotels or eating something or wandering moodily along rivers, canals and seafron
Jul 13, 2012 Scot rated it really liked it
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
Jun 19, 2017 BlackKat rated it it was amazing
Je vous le dis de suite: j’ai eu un coup de foudre pour la couv’ et j’ai craqué en lisant, à peine, le résumé!

Oui, oui, encore un roman avec le thème de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale! Que voulez-vous… on est passionné ou on ne l’est pas!
Plus sérieusement, cet attrait pour les grands conflits n’est pas un voyeurisme morbide mais, tout comme j’aime les thrillers pour comprendre la psyché tordue d’un assassin, je lis énormément de romans, d’essais, de témoignages et de bio sur les guerres car, premièr
Mar 15, 2017 Michael rated it it was ok
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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...

Other Books in the Series

John Russell (6 books)
  • Silesian Station (John Russell, #2)
  • Stettin Station (John Russell, #3)
  • Potsdam Station (John Russell, #4)
  • Lehrter Station (John Russell, #5)
  • Masaryk Station (John Russell, #6)

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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.” 5 likes
“All the governments were telling their soldiers that they had God and right on their side, and that dying for their country was the least they could do, but – well, think about it – what does it mean, dying for your country? What exactly is your country? The buildings and the grass and the trees? The people? The way of life? People say you should love your country, and be proud of it, and there are usually things to love and be proud of. But there are usually things to dislike as well, and every country has things to be ashamed of. So what does dying for your country achieve? Nothing, as far as I could see. Living for your country, you get the chance to make it better.” 1 likes
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