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Jack of Spies

(Jack McColl #1)

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,272 ratings  ·  175 reviews
Set on the eve of the First World War, across oceans and continents, steamliners and cross-country trains, David Downing’s complex and thrilling new espionage novel takes us all the way back to the dawn of that most fascinating of 20th century characters—the spy.

It is 1913, and those who follow the news closely can see the world is teetering on the brink of war. Jack McCol
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Soho Crime (first published September 3rd 2013)
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Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: spy-thriller
I think I prefer his Station series to this one.
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author David Downing, best known for his historical mystery series set around the time of WWII (Zoo Station being the first) has created a compelling new character with Jack McColl. McColl is a wannabee spy, who was recruited for the British intelligence service on a part time basis; partly because of his job as a salesman for luxury cars, which allows him opportunities to travel, and partly because of his incredible talent for languages. Set just before the start of the first world war, we firs ...more
I got this book by a goodreads firstreads drawing.

A fairly decent spy novel set just before World War One, features neophyte spy Jack McColl. He's Scottish, like James Bond, but that's where the resemblance ends.

McColl starts out in China, spying on the Germans, then travels through America, back to Scotland, and ends up in revolutionary Mexico.

The settings, and some of the action is pretty good. The weakness is in the characters. McColl is basically a modern day leftist living in 1913, complete
Dana Stabenow
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's 1915, they're shifting from butter to guns in Europe, and British espionage is as yet only a twinkle in the British Navy's eye. They contract hire their spies, as in Jack McColl, a car salesman currently in the German-occupied part of China (a place I never knew existed until now). The Kaiser's men are soon on to him and chase him all the way to Shanghai and then to San Francisco, where the Indians and the Irish join the mix, a triumvirate that would set any British statesman's hair on fire ...more
Jun 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Languid and atmospheric, this spy novel set on the eve of World War I could do with a little less languor and atmosphere and a little more action and plot. The story and writing aren't bad, they're just slow - there's only so many rail compartments one can describe before the reader needs something pertinent to happen in the beautifully described rail compartment.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. Call this around the world in X days. Jack McColl is a Scot who sells luxury cars while doubling as an agent for England. He travels from China to the U.S, Mexico then to Ireland. This is in 1914, and he is tracking Germany's involvement with Irish plotting freedom from English rule. Along the way Jack meets and falls in love with an independent American woman with Irish connections. There are tense moments, and Jack escapes several attempts on his life. It's an exciting read. . . Bet ...more
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Already a big fan of Downing's earlier "Station" series set in WWII era Berlin, I was eager to plunge into this new series starter on a British spy before the outbreak of WWI. The opener continues the mastery I've come to expect: Great plotting, good physical descriptions, an intriguing love story and a light shined on the parts of history we know little about.

We start with Jack McColl, a Scotsman, in Tsingtau in China, where his cover business is selling a luxury car known as the Maia, along wi
I miss Berlin, that wonderfully evoked image of a city at war that was as much a protagonist of Downing's WWII spy novels as John Russell. I don't know if Downing got it all right, but it didn't really matter; I believed in it.

Belief is coming up short with the first book in his news series. Downing's new spy, Jack McColl, romps about on three continents and Downing likes to show off his research, which is at best perfunctory. So we get a lot of info dumps regarding the headlines of the day, tou
this author has a series of fiction/noir of a spy/newspaper man living in germany leading up to and through wwii . it is a good and informative series. Silesian Station
this book here begins a new series featuring a rookie spy in 1913. lots going on here as jack mccoll, a scotish dude travels the world (tsingtau, shanghia, san francisco, tampico and vera cruz, ireland) on assignment for his nebulous boss. he looks into german navy and colonial capabilities, irish independence actions (w/german he
Peter Kavanagh
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great start to a new series. Downing is seriously good. The Stations series was great and this looks like it could turn into an equally impressive effort. If you like the espionage genre then you will love this.
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Just barely four stars. The main character, McColl, isn't as convincing, isn't as fleshed out, as the lead in Downing's "Station" series. The book meanders a bit, like old fashioned luggage covered with city stamps, before any plot is presented. Eventually, plot -- and central conflict -- arrive. It's just that neither is hugely believable. McColl works for Cumming, and mentions Sidney Reilly several times--alas, McColl (and, I guess, Downing) are no Sidney Reilly.

Yet, it's an enjoyable read and
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
high hopes for this one because i want to read the second in the series but now i might just shelve it.
this bad boy was boooooorrrriiiinnnnng.
never have i read a more boring stabbing, shooting, planned bombing and subsequent thwarting of said bombing in all my life.
this is supposed to be a spy novel....bah.
this guy gets around too...german occupied china, san fran, new york, chicago, mexico, london, glasgow, dublin and finally the south of england....but it was soooo meh.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Thank goodness that's over. The cover says it is a "taut, highly intelligent spy thriller" but I have rarely read a book that was so lacking in suspense or even interest. I'm not sure how he managed it, since the subject matter--the time period leading up to WWI--is interesting.
Lyndsay Faye
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
SUCH a tightly written spy novel, with clean, spare prose.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Historical spy novel focused on a British agent traveling through China and the United States just before World War I. The historical descriptions were interesting, although the novel did focus more on the main character's romantic relationship than I expected. Overall, I would recommend this as a pleasant quick read for someone interested in the subject matter.
Daniel Kincaid
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Four and a half stars.

While indeed different from the John Russell series, this first book in the Jack McColl series has its charms and magic, too. A well plotted, complex story. Downing's ability to pull you in into the lives of people, their thought process, the atmosphere, politics, etc., is nothing short of extraordinary.

Can't wait to continue this series.
Thelma Adams
Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Sometimes I worry that all my reviews are positive and that will seem phony. The truth of the matter is that I'm very picky about what I read, and tend not to write about those things that I do not like. But two things drew me to Downing's latest novel: that Soho Press published it, and that the Washington Post said of his work: "In the elite company of literary spy masters Alan Furst and Philip Kerr."

The problem with that review is overpraise. Furst is absolutely one of my favorite authors, no
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it
JACK OF SPIES. (2013). David Downing. ***.
This was the first in a new series by this author featuring his hero Jack McColl, an automobile salesman and part-time spy, and Caitlin Hanley, a journalist and a woman who identifies with all of the new causes. The initial scene is set in China, in the German section. McColl is observing the movements of the Chinese ships and reporting his findings back to his superiors in England, on a pay-as-you-go basis. Unfortunately, I found both of the protagonist
Jan 04, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a new author for me and I found his plot here to be very unique. It is a spy story as the title suggests but our hero is a very unlikely British spy. He is a car salesman, for crying out loud, and a part time spy in pre WWl 1914. It starts out in China where he is keeping tabs on a German naval fleet and meets a man he suspects is a German spy. The story moves to Shanghai, San Francisco, New York City and London with a side trip to Mexico as our hero tries to protect the British Navy's o ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
a compulsive read true but not on par (yet) with the author's superb John Russell/Effi Konen series that has just ended last year

the world of 1914 doesn't quite come to life the way the Germany of the 1930's and then 1940's came into that series and the characters are much less developed than there

still I plan to read more and hope the series will make the jump to top level
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book by the author of the John Russell espionage series starting with Zoo Station. I hope this book is a start of a new series.
John McKenna
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jack of Spies
Mysterious Book Report No. 242
by John Dwaine McKenna

Those of us who follow the news and current events can’t help but feel at times that the world is ‘going to hell in a handbasket,’ to quote an old refrain . . . but those of us who study history know it’s all happened before, and the world’s still here, and still full of crisis. Case in point: In the first ten years of the twentieth century, three wars were fought . . . the Spanish-American in Cuba and the Philippines, the Boer War
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Spy story set in the time just before and at the start of the First World War.

Spying is a gumshoe business so its not surprising to see it have a place even before internet, instant communications, trans-oceanic jets, and drones were available. Talk about the oldest occupation ... Anyways, here we have Jack, part-time spy, pressed into her Majesty's service in a time when tensions are rising between the competing tripartites of Germany-Austria-Hungary and Britain-France-Russia. In China, Jack me
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have to confess to being a David Downing fan I have read all the 'Station' novels and enjoyed the attention to historical detail. In some ways Jack of Spies featuring Jack McColl as our hero follows the 'Station' series. Set amongst the turmoil and political machinations that in train prior to World War One.
Our hero Jack McColl is working semi officially for British intelligence. The story touches on British - German relations prior to WW1 and has hour hero cruising across the Pacific from Chi
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
For me, this an up and down read; I got bogged down in the many global connections of the plot, which seemed an unrealistic tale for a new spy - one who’s not yet a full time agent for the first half of the book. All those Empire nations coming apart at around the same time makes Jack a busy agent. I agree with readers who called out the name-checking of famous 20th century figures. One of these links worked for me, the one from Jack’s time in South Africa, but as they piled up, it seemed a stre ...more
James Webber
This is really a 3.5 for me.

I was enthralled at the beginning and through the first 2/3's or so. I thought it was going to be something more substantial than it was. There were moments of extreme joy reading this novel -- the characterizations, the inner dialogue (and outer) and Jack's commentary on "current" events (such as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand) that may or may not be jaw-dropping from our 2018 perspective. I enjoyed the historical backdrop immensely. The plot was good but no
Trevin Sandlin
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. Fun, if a little light. I didn't dislike it and I'm interested in seeing what else the author has written. The prose doesn't approach the quality of Alan Furst, but it's nice seeing a character of nuance regarding the British Empire of the time. I guess it just sorta seemed all over the place. Might have preferred to have just one bad guy rather than several, spread over the course of a long book.
David O'Connell
I wanted to like this book, as I liked Downing's "Station" series set in Berlin. But, to be polite, it was a bit of a slog. Others criticized its "langour," but for me the characters did not come alive for me and, while an historical novel, history had little to do with the story. The principal adversaries were only briefly described with little depth.

James Steele
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked it, it may deserve a 4. He is not Furst, but it is Furst like, What I like, beside the intrigue, is a window into living in 1913. I think you get this. Plus a little historical fiction to put the story in context. Maybe its a 4 and I will re-rate later. I will certainly give the next Jack McColl book a go and maybe even read the prior series.
TheIron Paw
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very good historical spy story set in pre-WWI days. Our protagonist is a luxury car salesman travelling the world and moonlighting as a British spy. Our amateur spy becomes involved in several international events of that era, all presented with excellent accuracy (as far as I can ascertain - and I tend to be sticky about this). I think I'll continue on with this series.
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David Downing is the author of a political thriller, two alternative histories and a number of books on military and political history and other subjects as diverse as Neil Young and Russian Football.

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