Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Silesian Station by David Downing

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Silesian Station by David Downing. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Silesian Station by David DowningBuy from Amazon.com

Silesian Station by
A John Russell Mystery

Soho Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-494-X (156947494X)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-494-5 (9781569474945)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $24.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): Summer, 1939. British journalist John Russell has just been granted American citizenship in exchange for agreeing to work for American intelligence when his girlfriend Effi is arrested by the Gestapo. Russell hoped his new nationality would let him safely stay in Berlin with Effi and his son, but now he's being blackmailed. To free Effi, he must agree to work for the Nazis. They know he has Soviet connections and want him to pass them false intelligence. Russell consents, but secretly offers his services to the Soviets instead-not for anything too dangerous, though, and only if they'll sneak him and Effi out of Germany if necessary.

It's a good plan, but soon things become complicated. A Jewish girl has vanished, and Russell feels compelled to search for her. A woman from his past, a communist, reappears, insisting he help her reconnect with the Soviets, who turn out to demand more than Russell hoped. Meanwhile, Europe lurches toward war, and he must follow the latest stories—to places where American espionage assignments await him.

Review: Foreign correspondant John Russell takes on a more dangerous job than he imagines in 1939 Germany in Silesian Station, the second mystery in this series by David Downing.

Though British by birth, Russell has maintained a stance of neutrality while living in pre-war Germany. When it becomes apparent that Germany is preparing to declare war on England, Russell takes his son on a vacation to America. While there he decides to obtain citizenship and, more importantly, an American passport. The Intelligence Department requests that in return for a passport he, as a reporter, supply them with any firsthand knowledge, overt or covert, concerning Germany’s plans towards the war, Upon his return to Germany, he discovers that his girlfriend Effi has been imprisoned by the Gestapo for insulting the Fuhrer. Russell is told he must see the Chief of Germany’s Intelligence Agency to free her. Knowing that Russell has many journalistic friends in most countries, the Chief tells him that the only way they would release Effi was if he were to contact one of his counterparts in Russia to obtain information about their movements in the war. Russell agrees, but when he meets with the Russian officials they offer a counter-proposal: supply false information to the Germans and they would help him, Effi, and his son safely escape to a neutral country should the need arise. In a matter of days Russell goes from being a neutral observer of the war to an active, albeit undercover, participant for three countries on a collision course. Will he be able to do what's needed and keep his loved ones safe?

Though the sheer number of agency relationships in Silesian Station may appear to be daunting for the reader, Downing handles it all deftly by keeping the action moving forward without sacrificing period detail. And that is the real hidden gem in this novel, a peek into the lives of everyday Germans during the early days of the war. That Russell is associated with three governments also provides an insight as to the positions these countries were taking prior to active involvement. This is an intricately crafted fictional story (and a traditional mystery no less involving a missing Jewish girl) embedded within a historical context, and it comes together so remarkably well.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of Silesian Station and to Soho Press for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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