Few other contemporary writers meld history and espionage quite like David Downing. Following the finale in his John Russell/Station series, which was set during World War II, Downing takes readers a bit further back in time with his exceptionally well-researched new spy thriller, Jack of Spies. The first in a new series set in 1914, this story goes beyond its World War I backdrop to explore events such as the Irish Republican movement, the Indian independence movement and much more.
Readers meet globe-trotting car salesman / British agent Jack McColl, who has just begun working for the fledgling Royal Navy intelligence. The spying gig gets complicated quickly, and not just because the world is on the brink of war. McColl is stationed in China, where he is attempting to obtain information on the Germans and the Chinese. Fleeing for his life, McColl ends up on a journey around the world, from Shanghai to San Francisco. Along the way, he falls in love with a striking American journalist, which only serves to complicate things. This is a fascinating introduction to the birth of British spy culture.
Read on for an excerpt:
Hurrying across the yard and down the alley, he emerged onto Prinz Heinrich Strasse and into a bitter wind. The sky was lightening, and a Chinese man was working his way down the street, dousing the ornate gas lamps. The side of the station building was visible up ahead, but no smoke was rising above it—if Hsu Ch'ing-lan was right about the time of departure, he'd have at least forty-five minutes to wait.
Which was obviously out of the question. He might as well give himself up as sit in the station for that long.
Perhaps he could hide somewhere close by and then surreptitiously board the train at the moment of departure.
The possibility sustained him until he reached the corner across from the station and leaned his head around for a view of the forecourt. There were several uniformed Germans in evidence, and one was looking straight at him. "Halt!" the man shouted.
McColl's first instinct, which he regretted a moment later, was to turn and run. Better a few months in jail than a bullet in the back, he thought as Prinz Heinrich Strasse stretched out before him, looking too much like a shooting range for comfort. But it was a bit late now to take a chance on his pursuers' levelheadedness. He swerved off between two buildings and down the dark alley that divided them. He reckoned he had a fifty-meter start and must have run almost that far when a crossroads presented itself. Sparing a second to look back, he found the alley behind him still empty. But as he swung right, he heard shouts in the distance, which seemed to come from up ahead.
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