Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review of Lehrter Station by David Downing (2012, Old Street)

November, 1945.  John Russell and Effi Koenen are living in London with their adopted daughter, Rosa, John’s son Paul, and Effi’s sister, Zarah.  Russell is struggling as a freelance journalist and then an old ‘friend’ Yevgeny Shchepkin of the NKVD makes contact.  He threatens to reveal how Russell helped the Russians obtain German atomic research material unless he travels to Berlin to help assess the loyalty of German Communist Party members to Moscow and to offer his services to the American intelligence.  Shchepkin has his own plan to help both him and Russell escape Moscow’s grip, which involves revealing his plan to be a double agent to the Americans.  The upshot is Russell and Effi travel back to the ruins of Berlin, intent on fulfilling their mission and trying to track down surviving friends and family.  While they try to satisfy both Soviet and American spymasters, their search for Rosa’s father brings them into contact with a black marketeer with a secret to hide and the trails set-up to take surviving Jews to Palestine. 

This fifth book in David Downing’s ‘Berlin stations’ series and it is very much a series book being mainly focused on revealing the fate of the characters from the previous four books and the city of Berlin post World War Two.  It was certainly interesting to discover who had survived and perished and to get a sense of everyday life in the ruins and the large-scale migrations occurring.  And Russell and Effi are as engaging as ever.  That said, the tale lacked impetus, pace and tension, being a rather meandering affair with a handful of intersecting threads and lacking a clear resolution, and the hold of the Soviets over Russell felt a little weak.  Overall, then, a book that felt like a bridging episode, but nonetheless a nice read.

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