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Jack of Spies [Hardcover]

David Downing
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
RRP: £16.99
Price: £14.88 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

3 Sep 2013

Jack McColl is a globe-trotting salesman for a luxury car firm. He is also a part-time spy for the fledgling Secret Service on the eve of the First World War, doing London's bidding wherever internal or external enemies threaten the security of the British Empire. As 1913 ends he is in China, checking out the German naval base at Tsingtao between automobile demonstrations in Peking and Shanghai.

Caitlin Hanley is a young Irish-American journalist with the sort of views that most British men would find dangerously advanced. McColl is no exception, but once captivated he finds himself unwilling to give her up -- even when Caitlin's radical politics and family connections threaten to compromise his undeclared career as a spy.

Then the pair become involved in a plot that threatens the Empire in its hour of greatest need . . .

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Old Street Publishing (3 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908699299
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908699299
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 346,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'In the elite company of literary spy masters Alan Furst and Philip Kerr'
Washington Post

'Remarkable ... Downing is one of the brightest lights in the shadowy world of historical spy fiction'
Birmingham Post

'A superb sequence of spy novels comes to an end . . . Like its predecessors, Masaryk Station offers tight, intelligent plots full of moral ambiguities and a cast of shadowy characters for whom deception is as natural as breathing. The clammy atmosphere of espionage is wonderfully conveyed.'
Marcel Berlins in THE TIMES

'The author not only creates intrigue but, over the course of six engrossing novels chronicles the shifting conscience of his main character. His descriptions ring true, not only in moments of crisis and action but of the quotidian days between: prewar negotiations, threats and reprieves, false alarms, dashed hopes, everyday pleasures, encroaching dread . . . Almost epic in scope, Downing's "Station" cycle creates a fictional universe rich with a historian's expertise but rendered with literary style and heart.'
WALL STREET JOURNALon the Station 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 on Masaryk Station

'Excellent ... Downing's strength is his fleshing out of the tense and often dangerous nature of everyday life in a totalitarian state
The Times

'An extraordinary evocation of Nazi Germany'
C.J. SANSOM on Zoo Station

'Stands with Alan Furst for detail and atmosphere'

Publishers Weekly on Lehrter Station

'Think Robert Harris and Fatherland mixed with a dash of Le Carré
Sue Baker, Publishing News

'A wonderfully drawn spy novel . . . A very auspicious debut, with more to come'
The Bookseller on Zoo Station

'Exciting and frightening all at once . . . It's got everything going for it'
Julie Walters

'An outstanding thriller . . . This series is a quite remarkable achievement'
Shots magazine --...

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jack of Spies 24 Sep 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Author David Downing, best known for his historical mystery series set around the time of WWII (Zoo Station being the first) has created a compelling new character with Jack McColl. McColl is a wannabee spy, who was recruited for the British intelligence service on a part time basis; partly because of his job as a salesman for luxury cars, which allows him opportunities to travel, and partly because of his incredible talent for languages. Set just before the start of the first world war, we first meet Jack in China, where he has abandoned his younger brother Jed and friend Mac to carry on with the car business (he seems to do this regularly throughout the novel) while he is trying to obtain intelligence on the German navy ships in Tsingtau. Almost discovered, he flees to Shanghai, to meet up again with Jed and Mac and also to begin a relationship with New York journalist Caitlin Hanley. Caitlin is a very earnest young women, who believes passionately in a whole host of causes and, despite her desire to be independent and modern, seems quite happy to leap into bed with Jack (her confidence in early contraception seems a little misplaced considering the huge social impact of becoming an unmarried mother at that time).

This is obviously the first book in a new series and much of it involves establishing character. Jack is a pleasant young man, desperate to do the right thing and obviously enamoured with Caitlin. Although the best parts of the novel involve Jack actually spying - the strongest part of the whole book is at the beginning, where he is involved in trying to discover information for his spymaster Cummings - there is also a distance from the action which makes you less involved with the characters.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Idea, but .... 2 Nov 2013
By C. E. Utley TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is not easy to identify what is wrong with this novel. The idea, a story about a rather amateur British spy in the weeks leading up to the start of the Great War, is excellent. But, somehow, it doesn't really work.

Part of the problem is that it is all rather disjointed. We start off in China, where the baddies are Germans. We move to California where the Germans are still baddies, but the Indians are added. Then we rush to New York to add the Irish and some Americans to the pot. As if that isn't enough, we set sail for Mexico, then London, then Dublin and then the south coast of England.

Judging by the number of pages, the book is not very long. But it feels enormously long. We are supposed to be sustained by the underlying love story, the relationship between our hero McColl and the American journalist, Caitlin. But it is not a credible love story. To start with, the author rushes into the sex far too early. There is no courtship. They just tumble into bed (with the usual cheap novel's description of gorgeous breasts and the bush between her legs detaining us for only a minute or two). That done, we are supposed to believe this is true love.

The reader gets the impression, probably rightly, that the research was excellent. And that, in a way, may be part of the problem. Is Downing just a little too keen to show off his knowledge of events in China, America, Mexico and Ireland in 1914? It is also a little tedious that we have to be told of every wonderful new invention of the time. And one of them, the telephone answering machine, just doesn't ring true. Could the hero really have left a message on the British Consulate's telephone?
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing round the world journey 14 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book to take on holiday with a great deal of optimism having read and enjoyed the author's 'zoo' series. What a disappointment, cardboard characters, unrealistic love interest (particularly for the period) and just too much happening, it seemed like enough plot for two novels but hurriedly executed. Gulling the stupid German sentry in Tsingtao, the shenanigans on the transcontinental train are reminiscent of 'The lady vanishes, North by North-West and The Orient Express by way of James Bond'. Our hero has a charmed life badly injured in the Boer war and nearly dying if he hadn't been saved by Ghandi, yes the Mahatma (retold in flashback). He is then attacked and all but killed TWICE in the course of this novel. Stabbed in Shanghai and shot in Dublin and survived to rescue the Empire having fallen into the Liffey of 1914 with two gunshot wounds, incredible. The chapters involving the adventure in Mexico are irrelevant as is the curious visit to a Shanghai opium den. A previous reviewer has suggested that this novel reads as though it were written by a less mature and less experienced writer than the David Downing we thought we had come to know and suggested that it had been written before the 'zoo' series, even 'ghost' written does not stretch credibility beyond the imagination.
If 'Jack of Spies' seeks to put shape into the jingoism of late Edwardian England and attempts to write in the idiom of the time (as Patrick O'Brian achieves in his Georgian navy novels) the 'Riddle of the Sands' was better written than this. If this had been David Downing's first novel I suspect it would have been his last.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars which were all brilliant..
Having read all of David Downing's "Stations" books, which were all brilliant . .. I wondered if he could match those previous stories. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Frank Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book an thoughtful read
Published 22 days ago by J S Piasecki
3.0 out of 5 stars Vintage England
Quiet, contemplative, not as compelling as the "Station" series, but noteworthy because of the details regarding the British Secret Service and the dialog, interaction, and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by 2301aca
3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the "Station" series of his books and will be ...
Although an enjoyable read I think it tried to cover too much ground (literally - China, America, Mexico, Ireland and UK) for a novel set in 1913(?). Read more
Published 1 month ago by James D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A semi historical novel and thriller re what was going on around the world pfre WWI.
Published 1 month ago by Dr. James F. Mckellican
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Preferred the Station series, this lacked a climactic ending
Published 1 month ago by Jon Green
4.0 out of 5 stars More than just a jack of all trades
This is quite an old fashioned adventure story but it is a good yarn and is well told. It fairly flies along through a myriad of places from the far east to london and then onto... Read more
Published 2 months ago by A. Browne
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad story, but i thought it could have been ...
Not bad story, but i thought it could have been more tightly written. The principal characters were rather tw dimensional.
Published 2 months ago by N.A.D.Carey
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by chris.edlin
5.0 out of 5 stars ... his other novels and found this one just as brilliant. The...
I have read all his other novels and found this one just as brilliant. The research gone into by Mr Downing must have been incredible. Read more
Published 3 months ago by CLIVEBENNETT
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