Stettin Station (John Russell and Effi Koenen Novel)Stettin Station by David Downing

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the third of the series the focus widens to also include Effi Koenen, John Russell’s film star girlfriend. She’s been there in the first two as a strong supporting character, but she really comes into her own in this one.

This story starts in the Autumn of 1941 leading up to the entry of the Americans into the war. Having been largely left alone for a couple of years following the outbreak of the war by the Germans and the Soviets Russell has been working as a foreign correspondent for some American papers. On the side he’s been doing some investigative reporting on the fate of the Jews he’s known.

As the entry of the US to the war approaches the journalistic work becomes less worthwhile, only authorised despatches can be sent, so there is little value to add. However Russell again comes under pressure from the intelligence agencies of three countries, the Abwehr are using him, the Americans want him to establish contacts for later, and the Soviets re-appear as they get over the shock of the invasion.

As one might expect there are a number of dead ends and narrow escapes in this story. I think it is an improvement on the previous two, largely because the cast has broadened. We now see scenes from Effi’s point of view as well as John’s. This adds personality to both of them and also allows a much wider perspective on Europe at the end of the beginning of WW2.

There is a characteristic tour of Central and Eastern Europe in the early days of the war. The impact of restrictions and heightened security is all in there, but none of the devastation has happened. Berlin is still mostly intact with only the odd British bomber raid to interrupt normal life.

John & Effi are still living a reasonable life, she has the privileges of stardom and he is a foreign journalist and less subject to rationing than the locals. Despite this you can see their pre-war world has gone, and the descent has already started. The story is a struggle for a happy way out that doesn’t lead to getting arrested by the nazis.

I’ll avoid spoilers, but the fact that there are three more books after this one tells you that the story must continue somehow, although you can still feel some of the tension. There’s also room for some of the wider supporting cast to fall.

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