by David Downing
This is the first of a series of books featuring the ‘reluctant spy’ John Russell. One of the later books was put forward by a member of my book group, and I decided to start at the beginning of the series.
The setting is Berlin in the late 1930s. Russell is a British journalist with an American mother. His young son, Paul, lives in Berlin with Russell’s ex-wife and her new husband, and Russell shares in his care at weekends. He thus has a strong motive for staying in Germany even as the political situation might make it advisable for him to leave.
Russell, who has spent some time in Moscow as a young communist, gradually gets involved in spying for the Russians. He also ‘works for’ the German Sicherheitsdienst, as well as the British intelligence services. His personal convictions and sense of what is right lead him to try to help a Jewish family escape the country, and he trades favours with the various agencies for whom he is working.
The story is fast-paced, with the Berlin setting providing a steady backdrop to the action. Russell takes his girlfriend, Effi, into his confidence (especially in the next book, Silesian Station) and she becomes his side-kick.
I found myself so carried along by this story that I immediately ordered the next in the series when I had finished it.