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Zoo Station (John Russell World War II Spy Thriller #1) (A John Russell WWII Spy Thriller) Paperback – May 1, 2008

189 customer reviews
Book 1 of 6 in the John Russell Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in pre-WWII Berlin, Downing's fine new thriller introduces a clever and honorable hero, British journalist John Russell, who has spent 15 years working in Germany. Despite finding the Nazis despicable and war inevitable, Russell wants to remain in Germany to be near his girlfriend, beautiful actress Effi Koenen, and his son, Paul, from whose mother he's divorced. A mysterious Russian hires Russell to write a series of articles praising Nazi achievements, and though he finds this work odious, he figures out a way to make the job palatable by involving the British consulate and their chief intelligence officer. He's drawn increasingly deeper into the espionage web of not only the Russians and British but also the Germans. How he extricates himself from all three and gets revenge on the Nazis will have readers holding their breath. Fortunately, the satisfying ending suggests Downing (The Moscow Option) will bring Russell back in a sequel. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As the pivotal year 1939 begins, John Russell, a British expatriate, is eking out an existence in Berlin as a freelance journalist. He is trying to keep his head down and play it safe so he can stay in Nazi Germany to be near his young son and his girlfriend--a glamorous yet cynical German movie actress. One afternoon, a Soviet agent approaches him with a business proposal for Russell to write articles putting a positive slant on Germany and to be published in Pravda--ostensibly to prepare the Soviets for a nonaggression pact with Hitler. But soon, both the Nazis and the British become interested in Russell's new business arrangement, and he quickly falls under their hardened scrutiny. After the alleged suicide of a fellow journalist, Russell finds himself in possession of perilous secrets that will tear his peaceful, safe little life apart. This is a quiet but suspenseful tale of an ordinary man living in a dangerous place during a dangerous time who finds within himself the strength to do heroic acts. Michael Gannon
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: A John Russell WWII Spy Thriller
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569474958
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569474952
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,440,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Bobbewig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As Europe is on the brink of war in 1939, Anglo-American journalist and longtime Berlin resident, John Russell, wants to stay in Germany to be near his German son and his actress-girlfriend. Russell can't resist an offer from an old acquaintance from his "communist" days do some work for the Soviets. Soon after, the Nazi and British intelligence services learn of Russell's involvement with the Soviets, and he is made to do some work for them as well. Downing is an excellent writer, with particular strength in the areas of character development, creating a highly realistic sense of atmosphere of what life was like in pre-WWII Nazi Germany and in weaving the extensive research he did into Zoo Station's storyline. I enjoyed reading Zoo Station for these reasons. However, as a book positioned as a thriller, Zoo Station succeeds in creating slow-building tension, but, for me, did not provide "thrills." That is, there were no action-oriented or suspenseful passages in the story that kept me on the edge of my seat or that made me to put everything else in my life aside in order to keep turning the pages in Zoo Station. If you decide to read Zoo Station -- and it IS worth reading -- be prepared for a more passive, "quiet" type of thriller.
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92 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Andrea Bowhill on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Set in Germany Pre WWII, Englishman John Russell was working as a free lance journalist he had already been a long term resident for fifteen years and given that reason had been granted a full accreditation from the Ministry of Propaganda in Berlin. Unlike many of his press corp. colleagues who were now eager to get out, Russell wished to remain in Reich for as long as possible. Most importantly to be with his eleven year old son Paul by his German ex-wife; who lived else where in the city and secondly to stay near his current girlfriend Effi, a beautiful German actress.

New Year's Day 1939 in the early hours, Russell had been approached by an Old Russian communist acquaintance named Shchepkin. He wished to hire Russell's writing skills and make him an offer for extra money with a plan guaranteed to let Russell remain as long as possible in Germany. But this plan of course had more a return favour attached, secret spy work for the Soviets; his cover would be to write positive aspect articles of Nazi achievements for the Russian Newspapers.

Russell had doubts could he trust his old friend or had things changed between them as many years had passed. Russell already found Nazi lives despicable; Geobbles latest Speech on the vibrancy of modern German Culture could not cover the true Nazi reality, Russell already believed war was on its way. Then during early January 1939 the Nazis had brought out more anti-Jewish laws making it so hard now for any to leave. Being a spy didn't seem so unappealing a forced decision was finally made from threats and certain financial needs, but the web of espionage was bigger than he ever anticipated.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By AMK on May 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mr. Downing is to be congratulated on creating a seamless world in which his characters do what they can to get through the day while the universe seems to be going progressively out of kilter. As someone who has studied Berlin between 1933-45, I appreciated the manner in which he has taken the ideologies that we think we know and translated them in to a narrative of everyday shortage, minor terrors and moral lapses.

A couple of things to engage with other reviews. First, if you think that 'nothing happens' after finishing this, then you have been watching the Bourne Trilogy too much. There are no explosions and of course no fancy digital technologies. There are though beatings, there is espionage, there is even a fair amount of sex. If the sense of anxiety and decay doesn't get under your fingernails, then you are robotic.

Second, the characters are meaningful and interestingly complex. It is a pleasant change to encounter a main lead who is not 1. a spy by profession [Alan Furst] or 2. a hard bitten cop [Phillip Kerr]. Russell is a journalist, a father and somewhat of a marginal man with multiple nationalities. As such, I'd say he is an original character and I'm looking forward to seeing where his efforts to stay alive take him.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Koch on July 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I never quite understand why so many reviewers on these Amazon book pages are so harshly negative when posting a review. That especially seems to be the case with a number of the reviews of this book, and frankly, I really don't understand why? Does no one actually read anymore just for the pure sake of entertainment? I'm beginning to feel like I am the last one who does.

With that said, I enjoyed this book tremendously. It was very engaging, very descriptive, and quite suspenseful. I found the characters to be believable and actually found myself enjoying them. I've enjoyed them so much so that I ended up purchasing the two sequels to the book (both of which I read in quick sucession, and enjoyed equally as much) and have just acquired from Amazon UK the fourth installment because I couldn't wait for it to come out in the US. And in all honesty, some of the other books of this genre and period that other readers rave about, I found entirely lackluster... enjoyable reading for entertainment's sake, but nowhere near as engaging as these books. If you liked this book, give Rebecca Cantrell's "A Trace of Smoke" a try too.
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