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Jack of Spies Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Hardcover, September 3, 2013
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Old Street Publishing (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908699299
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908699299
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,513,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With his celebrated John Russell series, which began between the wars and extended through WWII, behind him, Downing launches a new series about a different war. It’s 1913, and tensions between England and Germany are escalating. Jack McColl is a luxury-car salesman whose travels take him around the world, offering plenty of opportunity to hear rumors and report back to the fledgling Royal Navy Intelligence Service. Spying is in its infancy, easily romanticized, and McColl is happy to see himself as a player in a global game in which men from various nations tested their wits against one another. From China to San Francisco to New York, McColl plays at espionage while finding time to fall for a radical newspaperwoman whose family may have ties to the IRA. Then the bodies start dropping, and the Great Game reveals itself as much more than matching wits. There’s maybe a bit too much scene-setting in this opening salvo, but it’s clear that the talented Downing is off and running once again, with an agreeable new hero and another richly atmospheric historical backdrop. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Backed by a $150,000 marketing and ad budget and the author’s first tour, Downing’s series debut may also become his biggest seller yet. --Bill Ott --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


Praise for Jack of Spies

IndieNext Selection June 2014
PW Top 10: Mysteries & Thrillers Pick for Spring 2014
Library Journal Editor's Pick for Spring 2014

"[Downing] is a master at bringing the past to life through the careful and often loving observation of even minor players and through the artful deployment of specific detail. In addition, Jack McColl's debut has a zest, an exoticism and a joie de vivre well-suited to an era when best sellers were being written by Zane Grey, suffragettes were demanding the vote, and opium parlors were a readily accessible temptation." 
—Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

"Moves along briskly and offers interesting facts about events now a century past. It’s always entertaining."
—The Washington Post

"When his “innocent” data-gathering escalates into knife fights and arrest warrants, McColl finds himself in an advanced game of espionage he hadn’t intended on playing. I can already see Gerard Butler in the lead role of the film version of this book."

“[Downing ] is smart and erudite, with a knack for fully-rounded characters and atmospheric but unfussy prose . . . a ripping good tale.”
—The Seattle Times

"Already had aficionados reaching for new adjectives to praise the author."
—The Independent (UK)

"Downing, a fiendish researcher, does a believable job of inserting McColl into real life events, and the result is a novel marked by surprising adventures of an oddly amiable sort."
—Toronto Star

"Downing seamlessly moves from Ian Flemming adventure to John LeCarré politics across the broad canvas of a particular time period, never losing the intimacy with his characters."
—MysteryPeople Bookstore, Austin

"As McColl travels the globe, Downing deftly depicts the complex prelude to World War I a web of unrest that connects German coal-hoarding in China, anti-imperialist protests in India, and labor strife in New Jersey, among other seemingly disparate tensions . . . It’s fun to watch the novice spy learn his craft."
—The Onion A.V. Club

"Jack of Spies is lush with details about not only China and the U.S., but also England, Ireland, and even Mexico . . . with an urbane operative who is sure to be a hit with readers."
—The Denver Post

"A powerhouse of a series debut . . . Think Raiders of the Lost Ark as told by John le Carré. The book is just damn fun."
—Arizona Republic

"As I was reading, I kept thinking this novel would be terrific theatre—Masterpiece, that is."
—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"A nice introduction to Jack [McColl] and His Majesty’s Service."
—Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

"A captivating, intelligent new World War I espionage tale by British author David Downing melds accurate historical detail with intricately crafted plotlines as it transports readers from China to San Francisco, Britain and beyond."
—Express Milwaukee

"[McColl] is a winsome companion, which bodes well for the future of this new series. I, for one, am already eager for the next installment."
—John Wilson, Books & Culture

"Just what we were waiting to read at the start of the summer."
Mystery Tribune

"Few other contemporary writers meld history and espionage quite like David Downing."

"Some of the best and most involving espionage novels aren’t about super-spys, the James Bonds, but about ordinary people caught up in circumstances beyond their control. And that is what Downing does in Jack of Spies."
—Oline Cogdill, Mystery Scene Magazine

"Highly recommended for readers of spy novels like John Le Carré as well as fans of historical thrillers, like The Meaning of Night and The Alienist."
—The Brooklyn Daily

"[A] master of the genre . . . Downing is capable of wringing more suspense out of a simple cat-and-mouse chase played out in a train yard than some of his better-known contemporaries can with a squadron of troubled covert-ops agents. That quality alone makes Downing and Jack of Spies a joy to read."

"An attractive prospect for summer reading. More than that, however, it is a sound beginning for what looks to develop into an important series. Astute readers will want to be in at the start." 
—Reviewing The Evidence

"Those who already know Downing's craft realize his deft hand with romantic passion and delicately portrayed merging of lust and love—and like the "Station" series, Jack of Spies includes a serious affair of the heart."
—Kingdom Books

"Realistic espionage (for once!), a deep feel for its period, an emphasis on the shock of the new that must have been felt at the development of world-shaking technology in the early twentieth century, a likeable and believable protagonist with enough of a personal life to ground him . . . I'm very much looking forward to the second installment."
—Broadway World

"The talented Downing is off and running once again."

"This first installment of a proposed series moves deliberately but colorfully, with intelligent prose and a strong period feel."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Fans of Downing’s previous spy tales will not be disappointed with this excellent series launch that is full of rich historical and cultural details, revealed as his protagonist learns the espionage business on the eve of World War I."
—Library Journal

“Vividly explores the worldwide intrigues that spawned World War I, through the all-too-human British spy Jack McColl and the lover he betrays.”
—Francine Mathews, author of Jack 1939
"It would already be enough that Jack of Spies is a taut, highly intelligent spy thriller without it being a brilliant historical portrait and a captivating love story to boot. A remarkably engaging world tour of pre-World War One espionage featuring an honorable protagonist begging for a long series."
—Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham

Praise for David Downing's John Russell World War II Thriller series

"Epic in scope, Mr. Downing's "Station" cycle creates a fictional universe rich with a historian's expertise but rendered with literary style and heart."
—The Wall Street Journal

“A beautifully crafted and compelling thriller with a heart-stopping ending . . . An unforgettable read.”
—Charles Todd, author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge Series
"Downing's outstanding evocation of the times (as masterly as that found in Alan Furst's novels or Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series), thematic complexity (as rich as that of John le Carré), and the wide assortment of fully rendered characters provide as much or more pleasure than the plot, where disparate threads are tied together in satisfying and unexpected ways."
Library Journal, Starred Review

“Downing is brilliant at weaving history and fiction . . . equally clever and unexpected.”
Toronto Globe and Mail --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
British author David Downing is very well known for his WW2 and post-war Berlin mysteries, all named after Berlin (and Prague) train stations. "Zoo Station", "Stettin Station", etc are among his titles. When his latest book, "Masaryk Station", was published earlier this year, I realised that he was probably ending that series because he'd run out of Berlin train stations to name his books after. Masaryk Station is in Prague.

Well, not only has Downing left Berlin, he's also left WW2. He's moved to an earlier war - The Great War - just in time for the 100th year anniversary of its beginning. He has retained a British hero, Jack McColl, but moved the action - so far - to China, the US, Mexico, Ireland, and Britain. Quite a lot to cover in "Jack of Spades" 290 pages. And we're only up to September, 1914.

The world was a complicated place in 1913 when the book begins. Jack McColl is with his younger brother and a co-worker in China, trying to sell a hand-made car - the "Maia" - to rich Chinese in Peking and Shanghai. But McColl is more than a car salesman - he's a sometime agent for the British navy, sent to look into the Chinese city of Tsingtao. The Germans had seized the harbor in 1897 and turned that part of the city into a little piece of Germany - complete with German street names. McColl, travels there, sees what he has to see, meets a German agent, and returns to Shanghai, barely surviving assassination attempts, and sends his info back to his superiors in London. He also meets a charming young American woman journalist in Shanghai who seems to shed her clothing and inhibitions and jump into his bed for randy romps, probably a bit too easily for the time. But the sex is good, and McColl and Miss Caitlin remain together through trips to the US, Mexico, etc.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. D. Cobb-Brennan on May 25, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A disappointing, meandering pre-WW1 spy story. The protagonist is a derring-do, multi-lingual spy-in-development. No adversary in the story rises to the level of antagonist. A step-down from the "Station Series," regrettably.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By craig on May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a great fan of David Downing, having read all of his John Russell books. His new book simply misses the target with his new action spy hero jumping somewhat willy-nilly from major historical event to another, Very disappointing read for me….
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By LS Winders on March 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read the Station series of books by David Downing and found them absorbing. The character of Jack McColl, for me, failed to grab my attention in the same way that John Russell did. Perhaps I expected too much. The story moves at a rapid pace, though, from German occupied Tsingtau in China, to San Francisco, New York, Mexico, London and Dublin. The story is well researched. I especially enjoyed his narrative about the police attack on rallying workers in Patterson, New Jersey, but I found the relationship between McColl and Caitlin Hanley a bit tedious. The ending, too, seemed abrupt, but I suppose the author is eager to bring us the next instalment of the businessman turned spy. I don't think Jack McColl will ever measure up to the ultimate ace of spies, Sidney Reilly and even the title alludes to that fact. It can only get better.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brad Geyser on February 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Generally a good story and quite interesting in that it explores a period not that well covered by traditional historical novelists. I enjoyed it but found that it contained content errors that could have been avoided - for instance a point made in one chapter would be different in another almost as if the author had forgotten what he had previously written. Editors should pick this up. Nonetheless, I would read his next book in the series.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By plane on September 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A very well researched spy novel set in the period just prior to the beginning of hostilities of World War I: 1913 - 14. Downing has several books to his credit featuring John Russell, a spy working during World War II. Jack of Spies is undoubtedly the first book of a series to be set during the first World War and sets the stage very well. Jack McColl, is introduced working as a car salesman traveling through the world with his brother and another man selling luxury autos to interested buyers. Jack's background includes combat in the British army during the second Boer war in South Africa 1899-1902. His memories show that war is not the glamorous adventure that many picture it as, and he obtains a job with the British navy as a spy for them possibly to help prevent the conflict brewing in Europe in 1913. Spying is in its infancy in terms of organization and planning and Jack is operating on a low budget with contact directly with the head of the division, and very little help from him.
The first stop in his itinerary is Hong Kong and than Shanghai. It is in this segment that he finds that spying is not just some casual hobnobbing with Germans in these areas but a deadly business where his life is threatened. He also meets a beautiful Irish woman who is traveling attempting to launch a career in journalism. Her brother and family are connected with the Irish Republican army bent on obtaining political freedom from English rule by any means including violence. Jack's work as a British spy is complicated by the need to keep this a secret from the girl with whom he is falling in love.
Downing places Jack in trouble spots during the period including a trip to Mexico when the future combatants are attempting to convince the Mexicans to side with them when war breaks out.
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