If You Like Laurie R. King…

-Post by Molly

Laurie R. King is one of my favorite authors of historical crime fiction, and ever since my sister finally convinced me to read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King’s first novel starring Sherlock Holmes and his assistant (later to be his spouse) Mary Russell, I’ve been hooked on the series. King’s appeal is certainly not based on riding the coattails of the Sherlock Holmes phenomena – instead, King uses one well-established character, Holmes, drops him in the middle of the 1920s, and creates a companion for him worthy of the change in setting. Here are a few recommendations for the Laurie R. King fan…

day of atonement1. Day of Atonement by David Liss

David Liss has been writing historical fiction with Jewish characters gallavanting about the 18th century world for some time now, and his latest, Day of Atonement, set in Lisbon around the time of the great Lisbon earthquake, is a masterpiece of historical crime fiction. Framed as a revenge thriller, Day of Atonement is a fun fact-filled and action-packed thriller. It’s either the Jewish Count of Monte Cristo or the 18th century Inglourious Bastards, take your pick.

maisie dobbs2. The Maisie Dobbs novels, by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear writes mysteries starring the working class girl, wartime nurse, and amateur private detective Maisie Dobbs, who spends her time in post-WWI England solving crimes with their roots buried in the war. Recent additions to the series include A Lesson in Secrets, Elegy for Eddie, and Leaving Everything Most Loved. For those who enjoy Laurie R. King’s chosen time period, Winspear’s novels are a must-read, especially upon the 100th anniversary of World War I.

jack of spies3. Jack of Spies – David Downing

Good espionage novels set around World War I are unfortunately few and far between. With the help of David Downing, already known for his brilliant series of spy novels named after different European train stations and set during the dark days of World War II, this may change. Downing published Jack of Spies, his first novel in a new series set during World War I, earlier this year, and here’s to hoping that he writes just as many installments of his new series as of his previous John Russell series.

Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with David Downing


David Downing has earned a following with his World War II-set espionage adventures featuring John Russell. With his latest, Jack Of Spies, he’s switched his attention to the First World War with Scottish car salesman and secret agent Jack McColl. To warm up for our in-store discussion on Sunday, May 18th at 4PM, we caught up with the author himself.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: This book has a less somber feel than the Russell books, with a more devil-may-care hero (at least at the beginning). Were you looking forward to creating a somewhat lighter tone?

DAVID DOWNING: Not at all. I hope Jack of Spies works as an exciting story in its own right, but it’s also meant to function as a scene-setter for the whole series. If there is a less somber feel, it’s very much the calm before the storm. The horrors of the trenches and a world-changing upheaval in Russia are only just around the corner.

MP: There is a lot of globetrotting in Jack of Spies. What did you want to convey about that time, during the period?

DD: Mostly the fact that the European powers still controlled, either politically or economically, most of the rest of the world, and that a war between them was bound to have repercussions almost everywhere. And tied in with that, the obvious fact that those fighting their colonial overlords were bound to see the war as an opportunity to push their own causes. As the saying had it, ‘England’s trouble was Ireland’s opportunity’.

MP: What was your favorite city to write about?

DD: Shanghai, I think. In 1914 it was a wonderfully exotic mix of medieval and modern.

MP: One of the biggest differences between Jack McColl and John Russell is that Jack wants to be a spy. What drives him to this call of duty?

DD: Partly a yearning for excitement, partly plain naivety. And, at the beginning, a sense that he’s fighting for the right side. He’s not guided by patriotism, so when he begins to doubt that there is a right side, things start getting complicated.

MP: Caitlin, Jack’s love interest, could carry her own book. How did you come about her as a character?

DD: I’m fascinated by the early 20th century feminists, by the American left around this time, by the Bolshevik approach to women’s rights, and by the Irish struggle for independence. These are the multiple contexts for Caitlin, which allow her to act as Jack’s foil, and sometimes his conscience. She’s brighter than he is, and much more certain of her role in the world. In succeeding books she’ll be sharing the spotlight on an equal basis.

MP: After dealing with both of them in fiction, what is the biggest difference between the two World Wars?

DD: There are several huge differences. The First was a revelation, the Second mere confirmation. The First was all about being stuck, the Second all about movement. The First was fought by soldiers on battlefields, the Second almost everywhere, by soldiers and civilians alike. The First achieved absolutely nothing, the Second at least got rid of the gangsters then ruling Germany. The Second contained the more obvious crimes against humanity, but I think the First had a deeper impact on how we think and feel about the way we live.

David Down will be speaking & signing Jack of Spies on Sunday, May 18 at 4PM. You can pre-order signed copies now, via bookpeople.com. The book will be on our shelves on May 13th.

MysteryPeople Review: JACK OF SPIES by David Downing

jack of spies

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.