Downing, David - 'Jack of Spies'
It is drawing close to the end of 1913 and author David Downing's new protagonist, Jack McColl, is a globe-trotting salesman for a British luxury car firm. Also, part-time he is a spy for what in the future would be known as MI6. As the year ends he is in China accompanied by a young brother and a close friend all of whom are promoting the car firm that Jack represents. Jack also uses the trip to check out German military installations whenever he has the opportunity, between automobile demonstrations in Peking and Shanghai.
In China, he meets and falls in love with a young Irish-American journalist named Caitlin Hanley. Caitlin has some personal views on subjects such as feminism and women's suffrage which are very advanced for the time but which Jack, broadly agrees with. Unfortunately, she also espouses support for her brother's and other relations' views on a united Ireland and ridding the country of the British who were ruling Ireland at that time. This subject matter compelled Jack to make known to his department the extent of his relationship with Caitlin.
The pair journey to the USA and have various adventures there before Jack is obliged to journey on alone to Mexico and the story picks up speed and finally returns to the UK for the exciting denouement.
JACK OF SPIES is a thoughtful, sensitive thriller, whose great strength is adhering to the actual historical topical details of day to day life in the lead up to World War I and avoiding clichés of the genre. Downing shows his protagonist as a decent practical man, working ostensibly as a sales representative but with this undercurrent of reporting on any German military installations or personnel to Cumming his boss in British Intelligence. All other minor characters are realistically portrayed. David Downing sensitively evokes the World on the eve of War. This is a very well written and researched and carefully plotted book which should be particularly interesting to fans of his previous "Station" World War II books but also to fans of Alan Furst and C J Sansom. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to reading the next story in this new series. Well recommended.
Terry Halligan, England