Jack of Spies by David Downing

Publisher: Soho Crime May 13, 2014
Genre: Fiction, World War I, British spy
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Soho Crime in exchange for a review. All reviews are expressed from my own opinions and feelings.

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Book page at Soho Press.

Jack McColl, is a middle age traveling salesman in 1913. His ancestry is Scottish. When the book begins he is in China, stalking German's for information about what they're up to in a possible war in Europe. Jack's "real" job is intelligence for the British government. Intelligence and espionage is in its infancy. Jack's pay for the work is minimal and traveling is lengthy.
Jack of Spies, is the first book in what will be series on the British spy Jack McColl, during the period of time before World War I and during World War I.
Ground work begins in Jack of Spies. What kind of personality Jack has, his talents and abilities, weak points; also, the history of intelligence during this era is explored.
Jack of Spies, gives a panoramic view of the world in 1913-1914. From China to Japan, from the west coast to the east coast of America, England and Ireland, Germany, and Mexico. Significant events from the countries are depicted, for example the uprising and bloodshed in Dublin, Ireland.

My Thoughts:
I love all of the "Station" series written by David Downing. When I found out his new book, Jack of Spies, had been published, I was pronto to read and review it.
When reading the first book in a series, it is important to take in to consideration the first book is a foundation for the future books. It is not a puzzle piece standing alone, but is the first in which several others will then be placed, all bringing about a full and clear image.
I feel Jack of Spies is a splendid first story.
My reasons for a 5 star review.

  • Jack is not a spy compared to what we see on modern film. He is at times floundering, unprepared, anxious, lonely, average. Humanity is shown in his imperfect character. This is a captivating way to lay-out a character, because he is fallible, and thus we are not quite sure he will "make-it."  
  • His friend with benefits is assertive, sensual, prepared, young. In some ways she is the opposite of our hero Jack.
  • A spectrum of the world in 1913-1914. I loved the essence of all that was captured in how people in other countries lived, their fear of war, political unrest in Ireland, availability of newspapers highlighting information available from all pivots of the world, a changing perspective of women in regards to equality and rights.
  • Contrasting views are seen. For example, a young female prostitute in China who is unable to secure a job doing anything else, versus an American woman that is an independent-minded-feminist journalist. 
  • Spy techniques at this time is minimal. A spy wanting information finds someone willing to be paid to "find out what they can". Sometimes those who accept money from you might also be accepting money from the enemy. It's a rag tag game. 

David Downing's page @ Amazon which features his books. 
The Station series by David Downing:
  • Zoo Station (2007) 
  • Silesian Station (2008)
  • Stettin Station (2009)
  • Potsdam Station (2010) 
  • Lehrter Station (2012)
  • Masaryk Station (2013