Last year, David Downing wrapped up his “Station“ series featuring John Russell, a British journalist reluctantly drawn into the espionage game of World War II. In Jack of Spies, he begins the adventures of Jack McColl and World War I. In this first novel, he promises to explore the character event in an equally engaging way.
McColl is a Scottish automobile salesman for a company wanting to develop an international market. His position also happens to be the perfect cover for his new job moonlighting as an agent for the fledgling British Secret Service. First tasked with obtaining information regarding any hidden interests held by the Germans or Chinese, his new line of work quickly gets Jack into a Shanghai knife fight.
Soon, Jack is on a global trotting mission alongside Caity Hanley, an American journalist he meets in Peking. The pair travel from San Fransisco to New York, before McColl carries on to revolutionary Mexico to foil a plot involving the IRA, which hopes to take advantage of the opportunity created by world upheaval. Downing creates an exciting and exotic world, one ready to explode at the merest spark.
Downing also successfully depicts the new modernism of the period. One gets a sense of the people, still in a nineteenth-century mindset, trying to catch up to the new inventions and ideas of the modern era. Even Jack’s profession as a spy is new to the British government, and somewhat looked down upon. His love interest, Caitlin, the American suffragette and journalist, embodies this theme as a character. While Jack is attracted to Caitlin’s free spirit, it is something he can’t seem to completely comprehend.
In many ways, Jack Of Spies reflects The Great War. Our protagonist enters it with a devil-may-care attitude and slowly finds himself in several sobering quandaries. Downing seamlessly moves from Ian Flemming adventure to John LeCarre politics across the broad canvas of a particular time period, never losing the intimacy with his characters. I’m certainly looking forward to learning more about Jack McColl and his war.
David Downing will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Sunday, May 18 at 4PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Jack of Spies now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.