David Downing is a British author who is best known for his well-researched and encyclopedic knowledge of Berlin and the Nazi era, and he brings this to his John Russell series of books that takes us through Germany during WW2. He also has written the 4-volume Jack McCall series set during WW1.
After 6 books, Downing decides to take all his loyal readers back to where it all begins, Berlin 1933 with the fire at the Reichstag Parliamentary building. It signaled the rise of the Nazi party, the beginning of the cleansing of Germany of Communists, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and anyone else the government felt was a threat to their rule. For the first time, we meet John Russell who works for a Berlin newspaper, has a 6-year old son Paul and is separated from his wife. Into his world comes a lot of criminal activity because John works the crime beat for his paper and most every day he is sent out to the local police stations to get news about murder, thefts, and lots more that most times the police cannot solve but yet always seem to be pinned on the Communists. He also has some other side investigations that keep him busy, but nonetheless, he always seems to be on the periphery of trouble and manages to talk his way out of things by the skin of his teeth.
This has a lot going for it, so why the low rating? Well, I have read other of the John Russell, Station series and enjoyed them, but this just dragged. To put it mildly, it was laborious reading this book and I only finished it because I was hoping it would improve and determined to get to the end. It took me over a month to finish this book and in between, I read numerous other books. One of the biggest flaws in this book has to do with the author’s well-researched knowledge of Berlin. What do I mean? Well, it is obvious that Downing has immersed himself in his subject and knows Berlin intimately, so intimately that every page seems to contain countless references to streets, plazas, buildings, businesses, etc. It is too much, way too much information, and is not necessary for me to know he crossed one street and headed to another street on his way to a location. Enough already! Not only that, he has loaded the book with so many points of reference that we cannot keep track of anything. What could help the reader? A MAP!!! And what is missing from this book, a MAP!!!!! Come on, if you want to use your encyclopedic knowledge, give us poor readers a chance to follow along.
A difficult book for me that had potential, but was too hard to read. Makes Dickens an easy read! Final rating a 2.5**