Month: September 2021

Jack of Spies Book Review

Jack of Spies by David Downing is not a recent release. But I urge you to find a copy. It is that good. The historical fiction with a bit of romance covers the time period just prior to World War I. The book features the many technological advances of that time.

Book Cover for Jack of Spies

Protagonist

Jack McColl is a full time car salesman and part time British spy at the beginning of Jack of Spies, peddling cars in China. And spying on the Germans a year before the start of The Great War was just one of his assignments.

Right from the start, McColl is attracted to American Caitlyn Hanley, a progressive, independent journalist also travelling vast regions of the world. Throughout the relationship McColl struggles with divided loyalties. Will he choose the love of a lifetime or his dream career?

Jack of Spies Plot

The author weaves a tale of espionage involving diverse nations. In addition to the Germans attempting influence in China and Mexico, much is made on an alliance with Irish rebels both in Ireland and abroad. There is no love lost between the Germans and the British even before hostilities break out.

Anywhere civil unrest is occurring, the Germans are nearby to provide a bit of prodding. McColl’s job is to keep tabs and run interference. Also, he is tasked with cover-ups a time or two. But one of the biggest challenges he faces is in America. Early 20th century workers are easy prey for outside groups socialistic in nature.

Downing does a fantastic job of portraying the conditions leading to the movement toward unionization. He also conveys a time of dissension in various locales. This was the time of the Mexican revolution and the prelude to the Irish War of Independence. But most of all the run up to World War I. The history is well weaved into the plot.

Action vs. Intrigue

There is quite a bit of action throughout the novel with multiple attacks on McColl’s life. But, the novel is more than an action adventure. There is intrigue and political commentary. Furthermore, historical facts are woven in with the fiction. Most of all there is a reluctance toward war among the mature and at the same time a bloodthirst by the young.

Recommendation for Jack of Spies

I absolutely loved Jack of Spies. It was a book picked from a pile of possibilities while on vacation. The time period is what sold me as I have not read much fiction set in the early twentieth century. And I feel so fortunate to discover another new to me author. He has written a number of books and I can’t wait to find the sequel to Jack of Spies.

If you are a fan of either spy novels or historical fiction this is must read. Find a copy today.

Head Wounds Book Review

Head Wounds is a Michael Mc Garrity novel and begins in the border country of New Mexico. Additional settings include the Mescalero Reservation and various locations in the northern regions of Mexico. Characters represent a number of diverse cultures. The main characters each have their own moral code- even the killers.

Head Wounds Book Cover

Characters

Even though the book is billed as a Kevin Kerney novel, in my opinion it is not. Kerney makes cameo appearances which really add nothing to the story. Clayton Istee, Kerney’s son, is the key character at the beginning of Head Wounds. But only at the beginning.

El Jefe is the antagonist to Istee. Also known as Estavio Trevino and by his true name of Wind Stands with Bear Among the Wallows, El Jefe is an assassin. He has his own code of honor and is a fascinating character. There is good at the core of a very violent man.

By the end of Head Wounds, Istee has taken a secondary role to a pair of federal agents. Yet he is brought back in at the conclusion. Perhaps this is an intentional display of governmental hierarchy. However, to a new reader of McGarrity’s work, it was a bit off-putting.

Head Wounds- Action vs. Plot

The action packed novel opens with a triple murder. The two main victims had ties to a crime committed on the Mescalero Reservation. However, a different crime caused a contract to be issued for their deaths. Thus starts a tangled plot line.

Many characters with overlapping ties create complicated stories. Head Wounds is a prime example of this situation. McGarrity throws in surprise elements in character motivation which add various twists to the plot. But the main driver of the story is action. Time lapses are well-explained and do not detract from the plot. Instead, the passages of time add realism.

Recommendation for Head Wounds

If you are a big fan of Michael McGarrity, I have a feeling this novel will be a “can’t miss” for you. I bought the book on my recent trip to Santa Fe off a local authors’ table. Readers not familiar with his work may want to check out a copy from the nearest library. Head Wounds is a quick read and ideal for settings such as a long plane ride or a rainy day. Engaging and distracting, I finished the book in one afternoon.

A caveat- the book contains a lot of violence along with beautiful landscape descriptions. And lines blur between the good guys and the bad guys. Well worth the time spent reading, yet I will not be anxiously awaiting another.

Finding Inner Peace Twenty Years Later- A 9/11 Memorial

Sudden Loss

Finding inner peace after a loss of life is difficult. Even expected death takes time to process. But sudden, unexpected loss of life is a trauma unto itself. Individual loss is hard and permanent. Community loss and national loss take years to process and years to manifest. Thus, this reflection.

September 11, 2001

The immediate reaction to the 9/11 attacks was one of national unity. Since then, the United States of America has been anything but united. Were the attacks the catalyst? I do not know. But I miss the unity and detest the divisiveness.

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the unprovoked attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C. and indeed the entire country. Therefore many events marking this collective tragedy are scheduled for today. Parades, assemblies, and memorials-in big cities and small towns. Families will gather and many will spend time reflecting on loved ones lost.

I was half a country away from the East Coast on that fateful day. But I took the attacks personally. I knew people in those buildings. Visits to the twin towers were always an event. The bustling offices full of life. The exquisite dining experience at Windows on the World. For me, the towers represented NYC. And I know how hard the survivors struggle on a daily basis. Twenty Years Later. My hope is those directly affected have found a modicum of inner peace.

The attack on the Pentagon evoked similar feelings. I was fortunate enough to experience a personal tour of this iconic building during my teenage years. The brigadier general guiding us was a friend of the family. Massive, wide hallways filled with purpose and industry fill my memory. This fortress was penetrated but fortunately not destroyed.

Anger and Dismay Precede Inner Peace

After the initial shock wore off my feelings turned dark. I was dismayed by those countries that blamed the United States. One in particular bothered me because of how many American lives were lost in the two World Wars trying to free its’ citizens from tyranny. So, on my one visit to Europe in 2008, the bitterness kept me from visiting this important source of culture.

I was also angry that certain religious leaders condoned the attacks. Perhaps, fringe elements, but still leaders of a mainstream religion. For an individual who believes religion and forgiveness are entwined, this continues to be a personal struggle.

Inner Peace

The passage of time may not heal all wounds. But an inner peace can be reached. At least on a personal level. Water and nature are keys in my family. At home, our fountains provide the sound of moving water. The movement is a subliminal reminder of time. It flows on.

For this 20th anniversary of 9/11, I have retreated to my favorite mountain town. Four generations are gathered adjacent to the gurgling Gore Creek. Windows are open to the mountain air. Thanks to the pandemic, remote work can be done allowing more participants. As the day unfolds, my wish on this day, the anniversary of such an infamous event, is a focus on inner peace and outward harmony.

Fountains at Night

Fire glowing in outdoor fireplace

Gore Creek

View of Mountain Creek

Gore Creek Again

View of Gore Creek