Friday, 28 June 2019

Potsdam Station - David Downing

There seem to be countless novels on the market dealing with 'good' people involved in Nazi Germany. Of the cuff, for example, there is Alan Furst, Volker Kutscher and, of course, Philip Kerr. Then there is the sub genre (see C J Sansom, Len Deighton and Robert Harris) of what-if-the-Nazis-had-won fiction. Downing belongs to the former school and classes with Furst in the degree of detail. I would not have classed him with Furst in literary achievement, having previously read the first of his second series, Jack of Spies (also reviewed on this blog), which is set in the lead-up to World War I. Potsdam Station is the fourth in his series featuring John Russell and Effi Koenen and went a long way to changing my mind.

Russell is an Anglo-American journalist and spy. He is also a somewhat disillusioned communist. Effi is his girlfriend, a former German movie star, now living undercover and helping to get Jews out of Berlin. At the start of this novel Russell and Effi have been apart for almost four years. Russell is trying to tag along with the Soviet Army as it closes in on Berlin in the final days of the war. He also wants to find his son Paul, who is serving with what remains of the German army.

Russell succeeds, thanks to his old communist associates. He is sent ahead of the army as part of team trying to recover as much information about the Nazi A-bomb project as humanly possible. Meanwhile Effi is entrusted with an 8 year-old Jewish girl and Paul becomes detached from his unit. Thus the three key participants move through the increasingly battered city, slowly closing in on one another. It is a fairly common storyline but Downing's command of detail lifts the story well above the ordinary. His writing here is better than I remember in Jack of Spies. Perhaps it is simply a matter of him having more affinity with World War II.

Whilst I didn't hate Jack of Spies, I couldn't recommend it. I have no such problem with Potsdam Station, which is a cracking read. I have an ebook of the first in the series, Zoo Station, which I still haven't read. Must crack on.

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