difficult to do Silesian Station
justice. All of the trappings are there. It is July, 1939. The Nazis have the
world by the collective throat and are dragging nations inexorably to war.
Half-American, half-British journalist John Russell and his son return to
Berlin during this last peaceful summer. Only things are not as serene as one
thought. Russell's lover has been arrested by the Gestapo. To get her out,
Russell has to agree to spy on the Russians for the Nazis. This he, of course,
agrees to do - fully intending to be a double agent and hope that the good guys
will help get him out of Germany when things really get ugly. Into this mix is
the sudden disappearance of a teenage Jewish girl sent to Berlin by her parents
for safety reasons. Choosing the palm of the Nazi fist of power seems an
unlikely place of safety but the parents are farmers who, for some reason,
think that anti-Semitism isn't that big a deal in Berlin. Go figure.
can see, for the most part, the pieces are here for what could have been a
ripper of a yarn. Instead Downing gives us an uninspired slog that moves at a
glacial pace. Russell strolls, drives, rides trains, drinks and eats in
restaurants and bars - all the while catching important history lessons that
show the reader that war is inevitable. With so many plot elements, it's hard
to imagine how Downing could give readers a 300 page novel where almost nothing
happens and yet he does. In his wanderings Russell hits Warsaw, goes to Moscow
to observe the pact between Hitler and Stalin, learns of the Nazis staging
violence to blame on the Poles as an excuse to go to war. He does nothing about
this things, however. He's just there so he can take the reader by the hand and
show us the situations.
missing girl element soon becomes the only plot thread of interest to anyone
with even a thumbnail sketch of the historical period as it is the only
storyline with a resolution that is unclear to the reader from the outset. Very
little in the way of detection goes on though and it isn't even Russell who
eventually breaks the case. The only part of the novel I enjoyed was the
resolution to the missing girl angle in the last 20 pages.
of Silesian Station is a
lesson in how to make a novel as dull as possible. Too talky, too many
historical details trowelled in to slow the story down even more than it would
seem possible to do. Cardboard characters, pedestrian prose and a hero who
needs help to tie his shoes all make for one of the, if not the, worst Berlin
Noir novels I have read to date.
If you're putting together a list of Berlin Noir novels to read, put Silesian Station at the bottom of your list. There are much better Berlin Noir reads out there.