Jack of Spies
Forsaking his popular World War II series (Masaryk Station, 2013), Downing starts anew in 1913, when war already looks inevitable. Jack McColl sells luxury automobiles to moneyed elites. His marketplace is the world, but he travels with his brother and a friend who can take over the car business when he is needed in his other job – as a British agent. McColl is assigned to collect information that will be of strategic importance when war breaks out. Given his talent for languages, his military background, and his interest in Irish nationalism (his lover is an Irish-American journalist), McColl could turn up in almost anywhere – and in Jack of Spies, he does. His assignment takes him from China to the U.S., Mexico, Ireland, and includes a couple of hospital stays (spying is a dangerous business), and then back to England just as war is declared. The plot is historically plausible, but we don’t learn enough about McColl to care about him. Jack of Spies may speak to Downing fans and readers sold on fast-paced plots; other may want to wait until for fully developed characters.