Thursday, December 15, 2011
11.20 Zoo Station by David Downing
By 1939, Anglo-American journalist John Russell has spent over a decade in Berlin, where his son lives with his mother. He writes human-interest pieces for British and American papers, avoiding the investigative journalism that could get him deported. But as World War II approaches, he faces having to leave his son as well as his girlfriend of several years, a beautiful German starlet.
When an acquaintance from his old communist days approaches him to do some work for the Soviets, Russell is reluctant, but he is unable to resist the offer. He becomes involved in other dangerous activities, helping a Jewish family and a determined young American reporter. When the British and the Nazis notice his involvement with the Soviets, Russell is dragged into the murky world of warring intelligence services.
As mentioned in my previous review of the Kerr book I heard about this author through my father in law who read a number of the Downing books set in pre-war Berlin. I wanted to read both authors close together to compare and contrast their styles. I have to say that Downing wins out for me in the end.
His hero, John Russell, is not a detective but a journalist who is essentially a native Berliner. He sees with a Western perspective though the writing on the wall as Germany is changing into a dictatorship. Many of the upper middle class Berliners that he is friends with including his girlfriend seem to have their head in the sand with regards to the Nazis.
Additionally Downing doesn't make the book into a city tour so much as Kerr does. He still uses the city as a character but allows it to unfold much more naturally. For most of the book he gets around by public transportation which allows for a slower pacing. While the mysteries here may not be as compelling I think this novel draws the reader into the world of Berlin much more deeply.
Posted by Jason L