Lehrter Station: A John Russell WWII Thriller
by David Downing
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616950743
Date: 08 May 2012 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Wikipedia Entry / Show Official Info /
Lehrter Station follows the lives of journalist John Russell, his wife Effi, his son Paul from a previous marriage and other family members through World War II in Germany. This is the fifth in a series of novels (don't worry there is plenty of background if you have not read the others). The original started in 1939 before the Nazis invaded Poland. Lehrter Station takes place in Berlin in 1945. Russell is a Brit by birth, but has changed citizenship to the USA. Effi is German, as is Russell's son Paul born from a previous marriage and Effi's family who are the other main characters of the novel.
Effi and Russell worked a great deal in the resistance during WWII and Russell is a part-time spy for the Americans, the Russians, and the Germans. With a lot of help from various groups, Russell's family escaped Germany before Berlin fell and has been living in England. Russell and Effi return to Berlin in Lehrter Station as Russell gets called upon to spy for the Russians in return for previous favors. His spy game, in addition to his journalism, is becoming more and more complex, but Russell continues to see it as his only hope for survival in the complex world before, during, and after WWII. The plot follows Russell, Effi and Russell's ex-brother-in-law Thomas who stayed in Berlin.
Honestly, the plot of David Downing’s novels is not the point and the plot is not the point of my review either. The real story is the lives of everyday people. I have seen great insights into Germany, both good and bad, through the eyes of his characters. My perceptions of post-war Berlin are below. They are complex, but that is part of the point. Downing does a good job of exemplifying this point and letting the reader understand the confusion ongoing in Berlin and the world in 1945:
- The Russian communists don't trust the German communists, and rightfully so, because some of the German communists are against following Moscow. Part of Russell's spy work is to assess the loyalties of these individuals.
- The Brits are against the formation of the Jewish state of Israel. The US is for it.
- Cigarettes are currency. I have heard that about war zones and such, but it is definitely true here. The black market is strong and controls just about everything. Many of the Allied commands during the supplying the area are also tied to the black market, and since they are making a profit, there's no reason to try and stop it.
- Everybody hates the Germans. The rest of the world holds all Germans responsible for the work of the Nazis, justifiably or not. The Poles are ousting the Germans from Poland and sending them back to Germany so they are the refugees. The refugees are not treated very well in terms of availability of food, sanitation, etc. The Allies have the resources to provide for them better, but it is almost another form of punishment to neglect them.
- The average German does not like the Jews either. Certainly not to the point of genocide but certainly discrimination.
- The Russian soldiers are brutal. Having raped their way into Berlin, Downing definitely portrays them so here.
- The Jews receive special treatment, as victims of homicide in terms of higher rations. It seems as if the world is trying to pay them back for the atrocities of the war.
- Everybody is trying to sort through the rubble and start over. Some buildings are still standing and if you have an apartment in one, you are entitled to get it back. Unfortunately somebody else is probably living in it, and if you oust them, they have nowhere to go because housing is scarce.
The other noteworthy thing I love about historical fiction is summed up in five words, WE KNOW WHAT COMES NEXT. We know about the splitting of Berlin, and the ultimate reunification fifty years later. We know about the Communist Block, the Cold War, and the formation of Israel. It is great to see the opinions of the individuals during that time, and imagine what they are thinking and the other side of the ideas that we only remember as facts.
I highly recommend Lehrter Station and the entire series by David Downing.