Customer Review

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Idea, but ...., 2 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Jack of Spies (Kindle Edition)
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? I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s: I never came across a device which could automatically answer the telephone and record a message (but my own research does reveal that a device was created in the 1950s in America - though there was no commercially successful machine until 1960). It is simply not possible that the British had answerphones in their far flung consulates in 1914. But that is a pedantic complaint.

On reflection, I think the real problem with Jack of Spies is that Downing has tried to cram too much into it. Maybe, now he has created his hero, the next book will be less convoluted and the characters can be properly developed. I hope so because, as I say, the idea is excellent.

Charles
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