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Jack of Spies by David Downing (Review #2)

Jack of SpiesReviewed by Allen Hott

Quite an interesting book that goes fairly far back in world history where an auto salesman not only fashions himself to be a spy but actually does become just that. The story takes place in the 1910’s prior to World War I. Jack McColl is a Scottish auto salesman who is traveling the world taking orders for a newly minted very expensive automobile. He, his younger brother, and a friend are accompanying one of the first models, showing it off, taking orders, and generally fascinating the public. This is at the time when automobiles were very, very rare and mostly were the Ford Models that were surely not fancy extravagant autos. Read the rest of this entry »

Jack of Spies by David Downing

Jack of SpiesReviewed by Jud Hanson

The year is 1913. Tensions are rising in Europe and Jack McColl, auto salesman and part-time spy for the British Empire, must flee China when an attempt is made on his life. Things get dicey when he is tapped to track a German national across the globe and meets Caitlin, feminist journalist and sibling of one of the leaders of the Irish Independence Movement. When his handlers learn who her family is, Jack is forced to choose between the woman he loves and his loyalty to the British Crown, a choice that will have far-reaching consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Lehrter Station: A John Russell WWII Thriller by David Downing

Lehrter StationReviewed by Nancy Oakes

Lehrter Station is book number five in David Downing’s John Russell series, a mix of historical fiction, espionage and suspense set mainly in Germany just after the end of World War II. The Allied powers have divided the country into four occupation zones and refugees are returning home, although many are still missing. The country is largely in ruins, people are starving and in the midst of all of this turmoil, Russell and and his girlfriend Effi Koenen leave England and make their way back to Berlin.

Russell, Effi and their extended family were earlier given safe passage to England in exchange for Russell handing over atomic secrets to an NKVD agent and making the proverbial deal with the devil: Russell will be obligated to do more espionage work for the NKVD at some point in the future. It is now payback time. He is met by Soviet agents at a soccer game where they outline what it is they want him to do back in Berlin, and he is also instructed to offer himself as an American double agent. His offer is accepted; leaving his family behind, he and Effi make their return to war-torn Germany. As Russell gets settled in, meeting with his various intelligence masters and trying to find a story that will satisfy his journalistic ambitions, Effi sets out to search for lost friends and to discover any news about the father of Rosa, a little girl she rescued during the war and brought with her to England. But it isn’t long until their respective activities land them both in dangerous, life-threatening situations.

Downing sets his readers squarely into the early postwar atmosphere of occupied Berlin, including the burnt-out and bombed-out buildings, people desperately searching for missing friends and loved ones, and gangs stealing anything of value they can trade on the black market for food. He describes various Jewish organizations that differ in their postwar outlook — some looking for revenge on a personal scale, others who believe in a more concentrated and mass-scale approach, and still others who are busy working to get Jews on their way to a new homeland in Palestine, despite British opposition and despite the irony of the proven perils of nationalism. The black market is also a postwar reality, where deals are done under the noses of or even with authorization from occupation authorities. Not even hospitals are exempt: the black marketeers deal in much-needed medications, and thrive “on the misery of other people’s lives.” And while he adds a touch of sympathy for people who try to honorably do what they can to survive in extraordinary situations, Downing also points out that sometimes survival means working within a context of gray areas where a person may not have that choice. Read the rest of this entry »