How does a journalist report crime when the government is run by criminals?
That’s not a philosophical question for John Russell; it’s an existential one. Russell is an English expatriate working as a reporter for a liberal German newspaper in Berlin during the early days of the Third Reich. He’s allowed to remain in Germany because he’s married to a German national, and they have a son. But they’re separated, and she’s moved on and wants to marry hew new beau.
Worse, Russell is a known ex-Communist, which means he has few friends on either Germany’s Left or Right.
Wedding Station begins on February 27, 1933, the day of the Reichstag Fire. The Nazis blamed the Communists, but many believe the Nazis themselves set the fire as a pretext for consolidating power.
Over the next two months, in the course of his journalistic duties, Russell begins to see that the Nazi’s paramilitary units, the SA, are committing a lot of crimes, especially against Communists, and getting away with it. Plus, the party is actively monitoring newspapers to make sure the news toes the party line. (The German term is Gleichschaltung, “social cooperation.”)
So, again, how does a journalist report crime when the government is run by criminals? Very carefully, it turns out, because expulsion from Germany isn’t the only option Nazis have for dealing with uncooperative journalists.
Wedding Station kept me turning pages, even though it doesn’t build to a big climax. It effectively portrays the overwhelming sense of menace and fear that pervaded Berlin as the Nazis came to power.
The book is the seventh novel in David Downing’s Station series, but chronologically, it comes first. As a prequel, then, it fills in the backstory to the six novels whose action takes place afterward. Based on this novel, I plan to read the other installments in the series.
David Downing, Wedding Station (New York: Soho Press, 2021).
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