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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"...
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...
Published 15 months ago by Jill Meyer

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An anticlimactic disappointment
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.
Published 7 months ago by C. D. Cobb-Brennan


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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"..., September 22, 2013
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This review is from: Jack of Spies (Hardcover)
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.

The purpose of a first book in a series is to establish the main characters and most of the supporting ones. The author also has to set the scene, the times, etc. David Downing has done this in "Jack of Spies". The problem is that he has made the book a far more complicated than it probably should be. The "enemy of my enemy is my friend" is taken to absurd lengths as Germany, Ireland, China, Japan, Mexico, and the US are mixed up as in a kaleidoscope, and the different countries are in a constantly changing pattern of friends and enemies. It's all a bit confusing, but what the hell, it's only a book. I hope Downing's next Jack McColl book is somewhat less ambitious and the story told is simpler.

Downing is a good writer and I'm glad he's back with a new series. I'm looking forward to the second, third, etc. book in the series.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An anticlimactic disappointment, May 25, 2014
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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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as engaging as the Station series., March 19, 2014
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This review is from: Jack of Spies (Kindle Edition)
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mediocre, May 30, 2014
This review is from: Jack of Spies (Hardcover)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slip sliding into retirement, June 26, 2014
By 
Bob Hardy (Morehead City, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jack of Spies (A Jack McColl Novel) (Hardcover)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing like the Station series., June 3, 2014
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
2.0 out of 5 stars very disappointing as compared to his Russell WW2/ Berlin books, May 15, 2014
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craig (SEWICKLEY, PA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jack of Spies (A Jack McColl Novel) (Hardcover)
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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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a terrible effort, May 29, 2014
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gordon saks (frankfort,ky,usa) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jack of Spies (A Jack McColl Novel) (Hardcover)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best, June 5, 2014
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I had the highest hopes for this novel, but not as good as the early books of the last series (the newspaperman in 1930's Berlin).
Seems over simple almost like a teen novel. The part in China was good but I have read better. The part in Mexico is anti-American and I do not think is a fair picture of what was going on. The main character is ok but I did not build any interest in him or his future. At time the main character seems to express a 21st century view of what is going on, and not the view of 95% of the men born in the late 1900's. I guess he is a "super-progressive" but I found it unbelievable. This novel is just ok.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Real Slow Mover!, June 25, 2014
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In Amazon's ad for this book, it is described as a thriller. Not So! The story is interesting, but provides no thrills at all. The spy activities are very modest, and are hardly the stuff of big espionage. I am surprised the Brits even paid the protagonist for his meager output of product. All in all, the plot is mostly about his romance with a reporter. No action scenes, no shootouts, and very little of anything else to qualify it as a thriller. There are a few sections where the tension increases, but only a tad. It makes one wonder what the main character did as a spy once WWI broke out.
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Jack of Spies (A Jack McColl Novel)
Jack of Spies (A Jack McColl Novel) by David Downing (Hardcover - May 13, 2014)
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