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Zoo Station (John Russell #1)

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  2,917 ratings  ·  334 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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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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
James Kemp
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
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.
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
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
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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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
David Downings Idee fand ich zunächst ansprechend, einen britischen Journalisten als Hauptfigur seiner historischen Krimireihe (aus bisher 6 Bänden) im Berlin des Nationalsozialismus recherchieren zu lassen. John Russell ist Freiberufler, stand einmal auf Seiten der englischen KP und arbeitet zurzeit an einer Serie für die russische Prawda. Als Journalist ist John in seinem Alltag beweglicher und sehr viel besser informiert als viele Einheimische. Die Persönlichkeiten seiner deutschen Nebenfigur ...more
Tony Mac
Excellent WW2 espionage thriller, crisply and economically written, full of social, historical and political interest, clearly well researched without ever getting the reader bogged down in detail. For the most part this first in a series novel is really more of a character study, with no single over-arching plot, yet it is constantly suspenseful, brilliantly capturing the fear and paranoia that overwhelm even the most mundane activities in a Nazi police state.

John Russell is a fascinating centr
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
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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.
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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)
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.” 4 likes
“Ordinary Germans” felt utterly powerless, and resigned to feeling so for the foreseeable future. The government would doubtless translate that resignation as passive support, and to some extent they were right. There was certainly no sense that anyone had a practical alternative to offer.” 0 likes
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