I don’t know what to make of David Downing’s Station series.
On the one hand, I frequently read historical fiction that explores the pitfalls of life in Nazi Germany. Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series is the best example but there are others in the popular “Nazi Noir” subgenere and Downing’s series is one of them. Downing gets the atmosphere of prewar Berlin down in an effective, readable way. I visited Berlin before and while it’s far removed from its Nazi past, the environment of low slung buildings, European canal/cafe life and urban masses gathering connects both generations. A cosmopolitan city pre-Hitler, Downing does a great job of chronicling Berlin’s decline.
The problem is the cases. Downing stuffs his books with two or three plots and while they are of the utmost importance, they don’t flow well together. It’s like watching two superstar basketball players play incongruently on the same team. There are moments of brilliance and challenge and there are times when I’m wandering through 3-4 pages, unfocused on what exactly I’m supposed to be reading. Zoo Station was the only other Downing I read and that book had the same problem. Though this is a prequel, it’s the newest one in publication order and I was hoping Downing would solve this problem but I guess he hasn’t.
So overall, you’ve got a well-written setting with an interesting protagonist but mysteries that, while interesting and full of high stakes, don’t always work. I should like these books more than I do. I don’t dislike them but I can’t give this one more than 3 stars. There’s just too much dead space.