Having read all six of David Downing’s “station series” about Germany in World War II, I was looking forward to his new series on World War I. Unfortunately I was disappointed. Simply put his lead characters, Jack McColl and Caitlin Hanley, lack the depth of John Russell and Effie Koenen. Perhaps it’s the times. The world of 1913-14 had yet to experience the horror of the trenches, the ideological struggles of the 1920s and 30s, the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler. It was a simpler time.
Downing’s protagonists are Jack McColl, an automobile salesman initially freelancing as an intelligence agent before moving on to that line of work full time and his romantic interest Caitlin Henry, a very attractive proto-feminist working as a journalist. Jack’s spying takes him to the German concession of Tsingtao, China, San Francisco, New York, Mexico during the U.S. occupation of Veracruz, Dublin and London. Quite a full itinerary, but he is far from operating on the high political level of Sidney Reilly, the “Ace of Spies”. It is more the day-to day stuff dealing with naval deployments, arms shipments and IRA terrorism. Through it all McColl and Henry find the time to frequently end up in bed.
There are appearances of the founding fathers of British Intelligence. We meet McColl’s boss, George Smith-Cumming the head of the Special Intelligence Service responsible for foreign activities, now MI-6, and Vernon Kell the domestic intelligence chief of the Secret Intelligence Bureau, now MI-5.
There is a lot of good stuff in this book and it is worth the read, but I only hope that in future volumes Downing will improve his character development under the strains of The Great War.
The Amazon URL is: http://www.amazon.com/review/R60CA1I0970MX