Downing, David - 'Silesian Station'
SILESIAN STATION by David Downing is the second in a series of spy thrillers set in Nazi Germany featuring Anglo-American journalist John Russell, Berlin correspondent for a San Francisco paper. The book begins with Russell's return to Germany in July 1939 from a trip to the US with his son Paul. Russell is now a US citizen, so that he can remain in Germany with his son and girlfriend if war is declared. As an American journalist Russell is a very attractive prospect for intelligence work, and is pursued by the secret services of the US, Germany and Russia to carry out work on their behalf. The German services brook no refusal; in the opening chapter of SILESIAN STATION, Russell finds out that the Gestapo have arrested Russell's actress girlfriend, Effi, to ensure his co-operation.
So during the long hot summer before the outbreak of WWII, Russell travels to Prague, Warsaw and Russia to cover the political manoeuvres in the run up to the war, and uses this cover to contact potential agents for the US and Russians. In addition to juggling the demands of his job and of his multiple spy masters, Russell agrees to help his friend, a print factory owner, find Miriam, the young Jewish niece of a murdered employee, who disappeared at the Silesian Station of the title. In the meantime Effi is becoming involved with the nascent anti-Nazi resistance in Berlin, and learning the art of disguise.
SILESIAN STATION is a thoughtful, sensitive thriller, whose great strength is avoiding the cliches of the genre. David Downing concentrates on period detail rather than heroic violence, and his hero, Russell, is a decent functional man with a reasonable relationship with his son and ex. The minor characters in the books are also realistically portrayed. David Downing sensitively evokes Germany on the eve of war, and shows the dangers of being Jewish in 30s Germany, and the tenseness of day to day life where a political joke or defeatist comment can result in denouncement to the Gestapo. This is a very well written and carefully plotted book, which should be of particular interest to fans of John Le Carre and Alan Furst.
Laura Root, England