One Man's Flag (Jack McColl)
by David Downing
Cover Artist: E.O. Hoppe, Getty Images
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616952709
Date: 03 November 2015 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Wikipedia Entry / Show Official Info /
The overall theme of One Man's Flag by David Downing is "The Enemy of the Enemy is my Friend". World War I has just begun and our lead male character, Jack McColl, is a British Secret Service Agent working in India. Remember that India is a British colony and the ruling groups in India have decided to back their leader in the war. At the same time, revolutionary groups in India still want to fight for independence from their colonial power, and the Germans are backing the revolutionary groups. The Germans feel that backing the revolutionary groups creates a distraction for their enemy, and will help their side in the war. McColl is fluent in Indian dialects and is part of the British team trying to stop a German arms shipment to the revolutionary groups and to catch their leader.
At the same time, our lead female character, Caitlyn Hanley, is in Europe. A similar situation to India is in progress in Ireland. The fight for Irish independence is ongoing, at this point non-violent, and the leaders of the movement have put the issue aside temporarily to assist Britain in the war against the Germans. Other groups in Ireland that do not agree with their leaders are continuing the fight for independence and, similar to the situation in India, are backed by the Germans.
Caitlyn is an American of Irish descent and is in Britain because her brother had joined one of the Irish revolutionary groups, got caught in a violent act, and is pending execution in London. Caitlyn is a journalist and manages to secure a job as the European correspondent for an American newspaper, so she is able to stay in Europe after her brother dies. Since the USA is not part of the war yet, she hopes to convey the horrors of the war to her American readers. She travels throughout Europe and reports on both sides; German and Allied, plus covers various other activities such as the Irish war for independence and the rise of socialism.
At the start of One Man's Flag, Caitlyn and McColl are on separate continents, so their stories evolve separately. It takes until the halfway point of the novel before our characters meet. In Downing's previous novel of this series Jack of Spies, Caitlyn and McColl were acquainted. Honestly, they were lovers. Both, however still have feelings for each other that are grossly unresolved. Plenty of background information is available in One Man's Flag, so reading the first novel is not required. In Jack of Spies, they parted company badly as Caitlyn was unaware of McColl's role with the British government. McColl was the agent that caused her brother to be captured, but he gave the brother the chance to escape, and the brother elected to be a martyr.
After his job in India is complete, McColl returns to England and his bosses are aware that Caitlyn is interviewing the Irish revolutionary groups and asks him to use his influence with her to find out if the Irish groups are really planning to do something violent against Britain. Ironically, the Irish revolutionary groups know why McColl is in Ireland and ask Caitlyn to work for them and to give McColl false information. When they finally meet again, they are still in love, despite the very bad circumstances. The rest of the story I will leave as a surprise.
Now on to my opinions. I thought the time in India dragged a bit. There are certainly good events and good minor characters, but it is complicated and a bit hard to follow without a thorough knowledge of the history of the period. Opening Caitlyn's story with the execution of her brother is a bit of a downer, but I found Caitlyn's adventures in Europe to be very interesting. As she reports on both sides of the war she realizes that, ironically, both sides feel the same way. Both McColl and Caitlyn have huge unresolved feelings for each other that the reader knows need to get resolved, and that starts at about the novelís halfway point.
Downing's insights into the time are also wonderful. It is amazing how long it takes to travel from place to place. The world had airplanes in 1915, but the passenger jets and the supersonic military jets of today were not there yet. McColl travels from India back to Europe by boat and they stop to fuel in a port in Austria. My brain started to wonder where there is an Austrian sea port, and after searching the internet, I realized the port is in the current country of Croatia. Pre-WWI, Croatia was part of the Austrian Empire. Caitlyn is a big supporter of the women's rights movement going on in the western world at that time, and also reports on the socialist movement. She even meets Vladimir Lenin at one point. A woman voting seems like a no-brainer today, but not in 1915. We all know what happened later with Lenin. They also get telegrams, ride handsome cabs, and zeppelins are warplanes that drop bombs.
I enjoyed One Man's Flag and I recommend it. It is great to see the world from the perspective of characters of the time. Wartime was also hell in 1915, as it continues to be today. A third novel in the series entitled Lenin's Roller Coaster is already published and I plan to read it next.