Berlin, 1948. Still occupied by the four Allied powers and largely in ruins, the city has become the cockpit of a new Cold War. The legacies of the war have become entangled in the new Soviet-American conflict, creating a world of bizarre and fleeting loyalties—a paradise for spies. As spring unfolds, a Western withdrawal looks increasingly likely. Berlin’s German inhabitants live in fear of the Soviet forces who occupy half the city, and whose legacy of violence has ripped apart many families.
John Russell works for both Stalin's NKVD and the newly created CIA, trying his best to cut himself loose from both before his double-agency is discovered by either. As tensions between the great powers escalate, each passing day makes Russell’s position more treacherous. He and his Soviet liaison, Shchepkin, seek out one final operation—one piece of intelligence so damning it could silence the wrath of one nation and solicit the protection of the other. It will be the most dangerous task Russell has ever taken on, but one way or the other, it will be his last.
Downing's anticlimactic sixth and final John Russell thriller (after 2012's Lehrter Station) opens with a horrific scene: one night in the winter of 1948, two Russians abduct two German sisters and drive them to a grand house outside Berlin, where one sister is shot dead, the other raped. Meanwhile, Russell is in Trieste, helping the Americans interrogate possible war criminals, while his wife, Effi, is in Berlin, working as an actress and raising their 11-year-old adopted daughter, Rosa, whose parents were killed during the war. Their parallel stories unfold with Downing's characteristically solid prose and exhaustive knowledge of post-WWII Europe. There's plenty of intrigue, but not nearly enough action until Russell interviews a Russian, a self-described technician with cinematic expertise, who claims to have a film of the German girl's murder. The pace of the book accelerates and generates some palpable suspense that features the Prague railway station of the title.