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A triumvirate that would set any British statesman’s hair on fire.

Jack of SpiesJack of Spies by David Downing

It’s 1915, they’re shifting from butter to guns in Europe, and British espionage is as yet only a twinkle in the British Navy’s eye. They contract hire their spies, as in Jack McColl, a car salesman currently in the German-occupied part of China (a place I never knew existed until now).

The Kaiser’s men are soon on to him and chase him all the way to Shanghai and then to San Francisco, where the Indians and the Irish join the mix, a triumvirate that would set any British statesman’s hair on fire. It’s complicated, especially by Jack’s involvement with an Irish-American journalist. From SFO we travel with Jack to New York City and on to Vera Cruz in Mexico, where the US is as usual stepping on its own dick in a sort of semi-invasion supported by the usual self-justifications and providing all kinds of opportunities for foreign powers to stick their noses in way too near our border. From there it’s back to New York and on to England in a desperate attempt to avert an IRA attack on British troops.

Whew. If I were teaching World War I history, I’d assign this book along with Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower and The Guns of August. All the signs and portents are there, and this novel lends local color and light to almost all of them. Recommended.

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