Thursday, July 21, 2016
Review of Masaryk Station by David Downing (2013, Old Street)
Masaryk Station is the sixth and final book in the John Russell and Effi Koenen ‘station’ series, which charts the couple’s lives from 1939 to 1948, most of it spent in Berlin. Russell, a former communist, worked as an American journalist, before becoming a full-time US and Russian double agent. Pre-war Effi was a German movie star before joining the underground, helping to smuggle Jews out of war-torn Germany and has now resumed her career. In this instalment they are back in Berlin with their adopted daughter, Rosa, and living close to Effi’s sister, Zarah; Russell’s German son now working in London. Russell senses that his espionage work is becoming ever more perilous and the situation in Berlin is putting Effi under-pressure. As with the previous books, Russell is shuttled around Europe, visiting Trieste, Belgrade, Vienna and Prague, getting into various scrapes as he looks for an escape route. And he’s still in cahoots with Shchepkin, his Russian handler, who is also looking for a way out of Stalin’s regime. Effi meanwhile has her own, more local adventures. As well as tell the central tale, Downing uses the narrative to set a wider context of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and East Germany after the war, the rat lines used to smuggle Croatian war criminals out of Europe, and the lead-in to the Berlin airlift. The plot is a bit of a slow burner and relies on a couple of plot devices, though these give a glimpse into the plight of those caught behind the iron curtain and the doubts of German communists realising that the Soviets have an iron grip. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting read, picks up pace and tension towards the end, and does a nice job of closing out what is a fine series, with two strong lead characters.