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Jack of Spies (A Jack McColl Novel) [Kindle Edition]

David Downing
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 Navy, 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 the Hardcover edition.

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


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

"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 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

"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

"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 Carre as well as fans of historical thrillers, like The Meaning of Night and The Alienist."
—The Brooklyn Daily

"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

Product Details

  • File Size: 1376 KB
  • Print Length: 353 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1616952687
  • Publisher: Soho Crime (May 13, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00H12CP58
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,441 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"... 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An anticlimactic disappointment 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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as engaging as the Station series. 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mediocre May 30, 2014
By dnb
Downing's new protagonist-spy traverses China, New York, London and Ireland, but in a weary listless tale compared to the author's "Station" books. The romance plot is also too long and boring.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slip sliding into retirement June 26, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very tired effort. Seemed like a travelog written for a teenage audience. No real drama or character development, and a lot of tired, repetitive, gratuitous sex.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a terrible effort May 29, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In fact no effort at all..
An impossible love story of an English car salesman and a journalist who met in Shanghai and become involved in the fight for Irish independence in the earl 20th century.
Characters are unbelievable, plot is boring, point of book is non existent..
Mr Downings Station stories are at least readable..this one is not!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing like the Station series. June 3, 2014
By babs
Format:Kindle Edition
A disappointment after the Station series. This is slow from the start, and gets no better. Skip it and read Charles Cummings' newest. It's definitely a treat.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By craig
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A pretty good read...
James Bond in the 1900s. The historical backdrop really makes this story.
Published 1 month ago by RLA
2.0 out of 5 stars ebarr
Very slow moving & frankly dull. Plot? Not up to Downing's Berlin Station series which was riveting. I guess there will be others in this series and I hope there is improvement.
Published 2 months ago by Earl Barron
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Just not well written. Very predictable. Lost some of the intensity of the early "station" books.
Published 2 months ago by arthur r. turnier
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good but like the Station books set in Berlin better
I liked and finished it but the entire time I was thinking that it was not as good as all of Mr. Downing's Station books set in Berlin. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Judith Treidler
5.0 out of 5 stars great historical fiction
I highly recommend this novel to anyone ww
Who is familiar with the nuances behind World War One. David downing captures it perfectly.
Published 2 months ago by Kevin Alberts
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Up to Downing's Usual Quality
The first installment of this series just doesn't match Downing's "Station" series for plot line and depth of character.

A quick airplane read.
Published 3 months ago by brugan
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly great historical fiction
I felt disappointed with this novel in the beginning, but found that first impressions can be false with books as well as people. Read more
Published 3 months ago by AmyJoy
5.0 out of 5 stars marvelous
Like all of David Downing's books this was great. Hope there are to be more. The "Station" series was excellent. Could not put down the latest of those Mazaryk (spelling) Station.
Published 3 months ago by cupcake
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book by a real master
Who could be interested in a spy novel about World War I? Me, that's who. This is a great book by a real master.
Published 3 months ago by Not so complex
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting era, large scale plot
From Tsingtao to Tampico, San Francisco to Glasgow, opium dens in China to rebel pubs in Dublin, Downing explores the shadowy world of nascent spies on the eve of WW I. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dale Mark Hornung
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