Jack of spies

Title: Jack of Spies

Author: David Downing

Read by: Gildart Jackson

Category: Spy Fiction

Audio published: May 13, 2014 by Blackstone Audiobooks

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars

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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 Navy, but British espionage is in its infancy and Jack has nothing but a shoestring budget and the very tenuous protection of a boss in faraway 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?”

I expected a spy novel that takes place right on the brink of WW1 to be more exciting/interesting than Jack of Spies was. It felt more like a romance than a spy novel, which would have been alright had it been marketed as a romance, but it wasn’t. Even at that it wasn’t a believable romance either. I  just wasn’t impressed.

Jack’s a good guy and a mediocre spy. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing, but the danger never seems real, even when he’s almost killed. It just doesn’t feel urgent. I never cared about him, and sometimes I just wanted to roll my eyes. Maybe I just don’t like a cheesy romance messing up a potentially good book. The actual espionage portions had potential, if he hadn’t been brooding over how it was going to effect his relationship with the woman. Because of course her family’s involved.

Jackson was okay as a narrator. I especially appreciated the accents he used, both for the characters and when Jack emphasized his Scottish background rather than his Oxford English. I do wonder if his reading style was part of the reason it didn’t quite seem as thrilling as it could have. Maybe it was bit matter of fact, which I prefer to overly dramatic, but maybe there’s some middle ground.

I guess this is the first in a series. I don’t think I’ll be picking up the second. It did make me add an Alan Furst book to my to-read list. Do you have any favorite spy novel authors?