Zoo Station : John Russell

  • by David Downing
  • Narrated by Simon Prebble
  • Series: John Russell
  • 10 hrs and 1 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

By 1939, Anglo-American journalist John Russell has spent 15 years in Berlin, where his German-born son lives. He writes human-interest pieces for British and American papers, avoiding the investigative journalism that could get him deported. But as war approaches, he faces the prospect of having to leave his son and his longtime girlfriend.Then, an acquaintance from his communist days approaches him to do some work for the Soviets. Russell is reluctant but ultimately unable to resist. He becomes involved in other dangerous activities, helping a Jewish family and an idealistic American reporter. When the British and the Nazis notice his involvement with the Soviets, Russell is dragged into the world of warring intelligence services.

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Audible Editor Reviews

In David Downing’s Zoo Station, the trappings of the spy genre come up against Nazi Germany’s theories of eugenics, as Silesian Station’s John Russell is coerced into writing coded reports for the Soviets under the eyes of the Gestapo. The result is an entertaining if rather low-key adventure, which does a good job in capturing the insidious spread of discrimination — piecemeal legislation and hardening social attitudes, as well as sudden flashes of sickening violence.
Although conspicuously well-researched, Downing’s writing doesn’t always live up to the gravity of the subject matter. A statement is so incredulous “a reefer-smoking Neville Chamberlain would find (it) hard to believe” — this feels clumsy and anachronistic. And the subject matter can make the dry noir style fall far short and feel pat rather than hard-boiled: “They were killers. It was what they were. It was in truth all that they were.”
Other than that, all the classic ingredients of a spy romp are present and correct: A tense train journey (the final scene is hair-raising), interrogations, briefcases with hidden compartments. Yet the writing is curiously unidiomatic; despite the author’s cartographical fetish (every journey, no matter its relevance, is carefully mapped out) there is little atmosphere of time and place — this could be set in any city in 2010 no less than Berlin 1939, which, perhaps, is the point.
What brings the story to life, though, is the narration by veteran Simon Prebble, who has performed books by authors ranging from Danielle Steele to Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Hawking to Ian McEwan. In Zoo Station, he hones his versatile voice into something as weary, crumpled, and no-nonsense as an old trench coat. A convincing spy, his accent-less voice is just right for a man with no fixed roots or allegiances (an Englishman cut off from his country, with a German-born son) and the trace of suspicion in his delivery manages to convey a mind trying to make sense of the an escalating nightmare while guarding against possible betrayals. —Dafydd Phillips

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What the Critics Say

"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." (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Review for the whole series

Once you listen to one book of this series, you will have to listen to them all. One is missing from audible, so sadly you will need to skip it or buy and read it in print. This series is everything you hope a ww2 novel would be. Sophisticated writing, full characters and very good sense of place and time. I was pleased that the undercover plots were not at all far fetched and with just one exception, totally plausible. I loved the fact that the novels are complete with in themselves, but the successive books resolve past plots more completely. Very satisfying espionage interwoven with the everyday life of good and bad people in Berlin during the worst times of the war.
Great read/listen, you are never disappointed with Simon Pebble as narrator. Enjoy like potato chips, just one will not be enough.
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- Cookie "Cookie"

As Good as Alan Furst

Having read all of Alan Furst's wonderfully cinematic novels, I was especially glad to discover David Downing's. Downing mines the same territory as Furst. His descriptions of time and place may not match Furst's brilliance, but his characters are more developed and his novels have a real plot. And he has, blessedly, none of the embarrassingly described sex scenes that Furst seems to think are erotic. Simon Prebble is a splendid reader.
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- Richard

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-04-2009
  • Publisher: Audible Studios