June 2014 Indie Next List
“This thought-provoking and moving historical epic about a British man with linguistic talents who gradually becomes a spy takes place in the year before World War I breaks out. Women were fighting for the right to vote and oppressed peoples all over the world were rebelling against colonial power structures. Downing captures all these complexities without slowing down the pace of this gripping thriller. Highly recommended!”
— Bina Valenzano, The BookMark Shoppe, Brooklyn, NY
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 McColl, a Scottish car salesman with an uncanny ear for languages, has always hoped to make a job for himself as a spy. As his sales calls take him from city to great city Hong Kong to Shanghai to San Francisco to New York he moonlights collecting intelligence for His Majesty's Secret Service, but British espionage is in its infancy and Jack has nothing but a shoestring budget and the very tenuous protection of a boss in far-away London. He knows, though, that a geopolitical catastrophe is brewing, and now is both the moment to prove himself and the moment his country needs him most.
Unfortunately, this is also the moment he begins to realize what his aspiration might cost him. He understands his life is at stake when activities in China suddenly escalate from innocent data-gathering and casual strolls along German military concessions to arrest warrants and knife attacks. Meanwhile, a sharp, vivacious American suffragette journalist has wiled her way deep into his affections, and it is not long before he realizes that her Irish-American family might be embroiled in the Irish Republican movement Jack's bosses are fighting against. How can he choose between his country and the woman he loves? And would he even be able to make such a choice without losing both?
About the Author
David Downing is a professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Praise for Jack of Spies
A PW Top 10: Mysteries & Thrillers Pick for Spring 2014
A Library Journal Editor's Pick for Spring 2014
"The talented Downing is off and running once again."
"Highly recommended for readers of spy novels like John Le Carre as well as fans of historical thrillers, like The Meaning of Night and The Alienist."
—The Brooklyn Daily
"This first installment of a proposed series moves deliberately but colorfully, with intelligent prose and a strong period feel."
"Fans of Downing’s previous spy tales will not be disappointed with this excellent series launch that is full of rich historical and cultural details, revealed as his protagonist learns the espionage business on the eve of World War I."
“Vividly explores the worldwide intrigues that spawned World War I, through the all-too-human British spy Jack McColl and the lover he betrays.”
—Francine Mathews, author of Jack 1939
"It would already be enough that Jack of Spies is a taut, highly intelligent spy thriller without it being a brilliant historical portrait and a captivating love story to boot. A remarkably engaging world tour of pre-World War One espionage featuring an honorable protagonist begging for a long series."
—Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham
Praise for David Downing's John Russell World War II Thriller series
"Epic in scope, Mr. Downing's "Station" cycle creates a fictional universe rich with a historian's expertise but rendered with literary style and heart."
—The Wall Street Journal
“A beautifully crafted and compelling thriller with a heart-stopping ending ... An unforgettable read.”
—Charles Todd, author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge Series
"Downing's outstanding evocation of the times (as masterly as that found in Alan Furst's novels or Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series), thematic complexity (as rich as that of John le Carré), and the wide assortment of fully rendered characters provide as much or more pleasure than the plot, where disparate threads are tied together in satisfying and unexpected ways."
—Library Journal, Starred Review
“Downing is brilliant at weaving history and fiction.... equally clever and unexpected.”
—Toronto Globe and Mail