David's Reviews > Silesian Station

Silesian Station by David Downing
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May 02, 2012

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Read from April 18 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy

In the summer of 1939, journalist John Russell, who made his first appearance in ZOO STATION, returns to Berlin from a trip to America with his son, Paul. Upon his arrival, he learns that his girlfriend, film-star Effie, has been jailed by the Gestapo, ostensibly because of a snide comment she has made about the Nazi regime (alas, ratted out by a jealous rival actress). However, Russell soon finds out what the Gestapo really wants: For him to act as their agent and feed bogus information to the Soviets. If he complies, Effie will be released. Russell has little choice but to agree to the deal, but--as if that weren’t risky enough--he decides that he will turn the tables on the Nazis and inform the Soviets, with whom he has had previous dealings, of his mission, even though one of their agents had earlier double-crossed him (in the ZOO STATION adventure). Meanwhile, he is also supposed to be collecting intelligence for the Americans, part of a deal he struck during his trip abroad, as well as reporting the news as Germany moves steadily closer to war with Poland. Busy man!

Russell, however, is a pretty resourceful guy, and he manages to prevail, despite the fact that it seems more likely that his reward for these various alliances would be execution at the hands of whichever faction sniffed (or simply imagined) betrayal first. This sense of entrapment and impending doom was, for me, a strong feature of the first part of this novel, although Russell’s feints, dodges, and heroics eventually dispel much of that sensation.

Overall, I found this novel enjoyable enough, though at times it seemed a bit over the top. There are plenty of period details--from the mundane features of daily life to the random brutality of the SA to the deluge of anti-Polish propaganda before the September invasion--to satisfy a Berlin noir fan. I was also particularly moved by some of the conversations between Russell and 12-year-old Paul, a German citizen. Paul is a member, like all Aryan boys, of the Hitler Youth, and until his trip to America pretty much saw only the party point-of-view. The trip, however, gives him a new perspective, and in his conversations with his father--about values, about war--he shows increasing maturity. For Russell, a veteran of the Great War, who knows exactly what the Hitler Youth is preparing Paul and his cohort for, these are difficult discussions. I found them poignant and terribly sad.
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04/22/2012 page 106
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