Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Review of Potsdam Station by David Downing (2011, Old Street Publishing)
The fourth book in the John Russell/Effi Koenen series, Potsdam Station is told through three points of view: Russell, Effi and Paul, Russell’s son from his first marriage. Each new scene switches to focus on one of three. The result is three different views on the fall of Berlin from the perspective of foreign journalist, surviving citizen, and retreating soldier. This is one of the strengths of the tale, along with engaging prose, nice characterisation, a very vivid sense of place and geography, interesting historic detail, a cloying atmosphere, and a visceral sense of desperation as a regime collapses under a fierce onslaught. Nonetheless, the plot is a little far-fetched, particularly the scenario of Russell persuading the Russians to get him into the city ahead of their arrival and Effi failing to maintain her cover to the final fall. That said, despite having a pretty good sense of how the tale would end, Downing keeps the tension high throughout. Further, the first two books in the series were set in 1939 and the third in 1941 and in some ways it’s a shame that Downing has decided to jump forward three and a half years to 1945 for the fourth as I’m sure a compelling tale could have been inserted in that timeframe. Overall, an interesting and entertaining read, with a main plot that’s a little fanciful but a narrative that’s compelling.