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Jack of Spies

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Set on the eve of the First World War, across oceans and continents, steamliners and cross-country trains, David Downing’s complex and thrilling new espionage novel takes us all the way back to the dawn of that most fascinating of 20th century characters—the spy.

It is 1913, and those who follow the news closely can see the world is teetering on the brink of war. Jack McColl, a Scottish car salesman with an uncanny ear for languages, has always hoped to make a job for himself as a spy. As his sales calls take him from city to great city—Hong Kong to Shanghai to San Francisco to New York—he moonlights collecting intelligence for His Majesty's Secret Service, but British espionage is in its infancy and Jack has nothing but a shoestring budget and the very tenuous protection of a boss in far-away London. He knows, though, that a geopolitical catastrophe is brewing, and now is both the moment to prove himself and the moment his country needs him most.

Unfortunately, this is also the moment he begins to realize what his aspiration might cost him. He understands his life is at stake when activities in China suddenly escalate from innocent data-gathering and casual strolls along German military concessions to arrest warrants and knife attacks. Meanwhile, a sharp, vivacious American suffragette journalist has wiled her way deep into his affections, and it is not long before he realizes that her Irish-American family might be embroiled in the Irish Republican movement Jack's bosses are fighting against. How can he choose between his country and the woman he loves? And would he even be able to make such a choice without losing both?

From Publishers Weekly

Feb 03, 2014 – British author Downing’s engaging if slow-moving first in a WWI-era spy series introduces Jack McColl, a globe-trotting Scottish car salesman moonlighting as a British agent. Months before August 1914, McColl is trying to sell his company’s luxury car, the Maia, in China—and sniffing around for clues as to what the Germans and the Chinese are up to for his British government handlers back in London. He and Caitlin Hanley, a beautiful American journalist he meets in Peking, embark on a round-the-world journey that takes them to San Francisco and on to New York. Later, McColl heads to Mexico, and finally to Britain. Along the way, he survives a stabbing, falls in love, and tracks a German spy, gathering intelligence on a variety of revolutionary movements. Fans of Downing’s WWII-era spy series that concluded with Masaryk Station will appreciate the author’s command of history and period detail, though some may find the book reads more like a travelogue than a thriller.

Customer Reviews


Noooo! It can't end like this. Our hero wounded and heartbroken while his beloved Caitlin casts him into outer darkness!

After Downing's masterly Berlin series this book was a leap of faith, both for him and us. Would we care about Jack McColl in the same way we had grown to love our John Russell and Effi Koenen? Yes. Absolutely. The brilliant combination of quality historical research, skilful scene setting and understated, honest characters that made the Berlin sequence so compelling is brilliantly developed here in 1914. McColl has the same heartfelt idealism hidden under the skin of a clever, but not too clever, man of his time.

And Downing's ability to evoke an era in places long since lost all over a world rapidly shrinking in the light of an advancing modernity is incomparable. This new work is a tantalising beginning to a new set of people, places and events to be savoured.The wait until the next book will be almost unbearable

Reading the e-book has the added pleasure of being able to immediately do the side research into historical incidents that illuminate a time, an era and a world-view long since disparu. This book is excellent. A great read, and the beginning of a new humanist hero's journey. Long may Jack McColl run, hopefully avoiding the assassin's knife, or gun, or the perils of heartbreak for the agent of intelligence.


Did David Downing write this book?

After reading all of David Downing's Station books I was really excited to start a new series. But this does not seem like the same author. This book is more of a history book and travelogue than a novel. There is almost no plot but a series of episodes with casual mention of unrelated historical events in 1913. Then for no particular reason the events take place in China, San , Francisco Mexico, Ireland , and London. The book is boring, David Downing can do better.


I've read all his others to great joy and satisfaction, but this just didn't do it for me. It started very slowly and never really picked up steam. The whole read was very disconcerting.

Jack of Spies
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Mysteries & Thrillers
  • Published: May 13, 2014
  • Publisher: Soho Press
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 368 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings