WWII Spy Thriller Series Takes on Post-War Hollywood

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Union Station (A John Russell WWII Spy Thriller) by David Downing

David Downing can include former rock music critic among his formidable writing credits. He is a prolific English author, writing both fiction and non-fiction on a wide-range of topics including children’s books, biographies, soccer, military history and several stand-alone thrillers.

During the 1990’s, using the pseudonym David Monnery, he published 16 action adventure novels. His focus has since shifted to espionage novels with two series: four books about Jack McColl, a British spy in WWI and the eight John Russell spy novels set in a period of roughly 20 years from Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 in a prequel to the engrossing recently published Union Station (Soho Crime).

Distinguishing it from many other series, a reader unfamiliar with his previous work, characters or situations, can jump in without hesitation or finding it necessary to start with the first and work forward. The author thoughtfully provides his own introductions containing brief synopses seamlessly in the current plot.

These spy novels are gripping, convincing and wholly believable; crammed with fascinating historical facts and astute, critical observations about complex geo-political situations while exuding admirable intelligence and tremendous talent.

Union Station is set in 1953 with the majority of the action taking place in Los Angeles and Berlin. It is during the height of the “Red Scare” witch hunt led by demagogue Joseph P. McCarthy, when virtually anyone could be arraigned before The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to testify to their innocence of the taint of suspected Communism or be asked to denounce colleagues. The implied threat was clear: either play ball or wind up on a blacklist.

John Russell, British citizen and former double agent for America and Russia when they were uneasy WWII allies has been out of the spy game for five years. He is now a freelance journalist for foreign newspapers and working on a book to be published in London. The topic is the controversial investigation of American firms that conducted business in Nazi Germany which may imperil him.

He and his actress wife Effi Koenen and their adopted daughter Rosa, a former German Jewish refugee whose family was killed in the Holocaust, are living in Los Angeles. That journalist Russell lacks permits to work in the USA severely hampers his earning ability leaving Effi to step into the role of primary breadwinner.

When he is threatened with the loss of his residency Visa and possible deportation by government agents he manages to avoid a formal HUAC hearing by reluctantly agreeing to perform some “minor” requested espionage during an upcoming trip to Berlin.

Effi has been invited to attend the Third Annual Berlin Film Festival as the lauded actress and honored guest. West Berlin was Effi’s childhood home and she still retains ownership of her family residence. It was John Russell’s base of operation for two decades and where the couple met. Effi had been a star of German stage and film although she abhorred the tyrannical propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. She later appeared in Soviet anti-Nazi propaganda films which she also disliked.

Currently, she is a fan favorite featured actress in a popular American situation comedy filmed in Hollywood. Her husband John has been invited to accompany her on the trip creating an opportunity for a rare family vacation.

Rosa, a gifted visual artist, will accompany them on the cross-country train trip but will remain with her parents’ friends in New York City eagerly soaking up the cultural scene of art museums, lectures, the theatre and music. She has become an aficionado of jazz, R & B and what was marketed as “race music” and can’t wait to get to a particular record store in Harlem.

John and Effi will enjoy a luxurious cruise to Europe with plans to spend time in London with his son Paul and expectant daughter-in-law before flying to Berlin. Curiously, they have been followed in and around Los Angeles for two weeks before their departure. Who knows what hornet’s nest John Russell may have disturbed and what the consequences might be in Germany?

Union Station revolves around the aftermath of Joseph Stalin’s death from a cerebral hemorrhage in early March, 1953 after 29 years as the brutal leader of the Soviet Union. His successor Nikita Khrushchev prevailed after the power struggle emerging as First Secretary of the Communist Party and Premier, then shook up the leadership by denouncing many of Stalin’s tactics and mandating reforms.

Since 1949, defeated Germany was a divided country and Berlin a divided city with West Germany or the Federal Republic of Germany to the West and the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) to the East with the largest city East Berlin and serving as the Soviet Zone capital. In this communist-controlled dictatorship, Berlin became the epicenter of Cold War politics.

The Stasi (akin to the KGB in Russia) were the terrifying East German secret service police dedicated to strengthening the totalitarian regime, glorifying the Communist Party and repressing personal freedoms through various means of oppression: torture, blackmail, threats, imprisonment and death to dissenters or persons of interest. Data monitoring through listening devices, bugged telephone lines and surveillance ramped up during the early 1950’s. 

It has since been estimated that one out of every three East Germans had come under suspicion during the peak years creating psychological terror and distrust of friends, neighbors and relatives. Until the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 crossings were porous; 4000-5000 DDR residents fled the oppression for an approximate total of 3.5 million who left permanently from 1949-1961.

Former espionage agents were not exempt from danger. Union Station has two narrators, the chief protagonist John Russell and his friend and counter-part former Soviet spy Gerhard Strom. The latter may require a high-risk escape plan from East Berlin. Readers will be wide-awake and biting their nails for the second half of this exciting novel.

This is the eighth book named as “The Station Series” due to the prominently featured train stations. Most of these are located in or near Berlin with the exception of the present novel which utilizes the Los Angeles Union Station. Not only is it the largest passenger terminal in the west but also is recognized for its stunning architectural features with a blend of Mission and Spanish Colonial Revival with Art Deco grandeur. The protagonist, his actress wife Effi and their adopted daughter Rosa will also pass through Chicago and Washington, DC’s own Union Stations.

David Downing stands as an equal to top caliber masters of historical detective/spy fiction such as British authors John le Carré and Philip Kerr and American Alan Furst. Fans already well familiar with his writing and new readers alike will applaud and embrace Union Station for his consistent excellence and skill as a wordsmith and storyteller.

David Downing grew up in suburban London. He is the author of seven other books in the John Russell  station series, set in WWII Berlin, as well as four WWI espionage novels in the Jack McColl series and the thrillers Diary of a Dead Man on Leave and The Red Eagles. He lives with his wife, an American acupuncturist, in rural France.

Publish Date: 2/6/2024

Author: David Downing

Page Count: 408 pages

Publisher: Soho Crime

ISBN: 9781641293570



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