Jack of Spies
by David Downing
Cover Artist: Design: David Shoemaker
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616952686
Date: 13 May 2014 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Wikipedia Entry / Show Official Info /
Jack of Spies begins a new series of novels by David Downing featuring the new character Jack McColl. McColl is British and the year is 1913. The story begins in Tsingtau, China where Jack, his brother Jed, and friend Mac are showing and selling luxury automobiles to expatriates and wealthy Chinese. Currently, Tsingtau is under German rule and the German Navy East Asia Squadron has its ships there.
Jack is also working for the British government as an agent. The British Foreign Office has representatives in the area, but the British consider it ungentlemanly to share any kind of military secrets they learn from their counterparts during the daily routine of diplomacy. McColl, among other British businessmen who travel the world, had been approached to assist the British government as part-time agents, also known as spies. McColl also has a natural gift of languages and speaks several, which makes him an excellent candidate for the undercover work.
Based on the date, international trouble is brewing in Europe. Relations between the British and the Germans are strained. Great Britain has additional challenges including issues in both Ireland and India where the colonies are trying to break from the British Empire and become independent nations. This is where the crux of the spy story comes in. Since the British and the Germans are on the brink of war, the Irish and the Indians have teamed with the Germans against their common enemy.
With his language skills to help him, McColl inserts himself in the middle of the organizations and is able to pass a great deal of information back home. McColl also meets a young woman with whom he falls in love. Caitlin is American, from an Irish-American family, which helps gain him access to the Irish groups, but makes all kinds of conflicts with his budding spy career. McColl is hoping that his spying becomes a permanent job and his feelings for Caitlin complicate his long-term plans.
Downing's novels are a glimpse into the time period. His previous novels, the Station series, surround World War II. Jack of Spies starts a new series surrounding WWI. Jack of Spies includes action, chases, and several murder attempts as McColl weaves through his paces, but the other half of the story is the world around him.
I am amazed at how long it takes to travel from China to the US on a boat! When I think about it and consider the time period, it all makes sense. McColl also mentions Henry Ford and the assembly line method that will someday make McColl's custom cars obsolete. Caitlin is a suffragette, another big issue of the period.
It is interesting, as an American I had a little trouble following the events and characters of the Irish and Indian fight for independence and Wikipedia helped me a great deal. Maybe the Irish and Indian fight for independence is as common for British schoolchildren as the American Revolution and Civil War are to us. I had to look them up in order to follow, but that is exactly why I like reading David Downing's books. They transfer me into the time period, and I live and learn the times through his characters.
I highly recommend Jack of Spies for all mystery readers. It has action, suspense, and great insight into the early 20th Century. David Downing plans to make this a series and I am looking forward to the rest as much as I looked forward to new books in his previous Station series.