Book Review: Two MacInnes Classic Spy Novels
by Prof. Jenn
Helen MacInnes has been called the Queen of Spy Writers, and after reading Titan Press’ re-release of Above Suspicion and Pray For a Brave Heart, I can see why.
The novels share many strengths, including compelling main characters, realistic historical settings without distracting from the taut plots, and all the “whodunit” tension necessary for thrillers of this genre. Both novels star amateur protagonists (in Above Suspicion’s case: a couple of amateurs) stuck in the middle of big-time political intrigue, and it makes for an edge-of-the-seat read in each case. I mean, Jason Bourne is a pretty awesome character, but he is just that. Awesome. Denning and the Myleses are normal people–brave, sure, smart, certainly, but just people. The fact that they have friends in odd places who ask them for help in their intricate information-gathering is a side point, until they become embroiled in said intricacies.
I would posit that the reason the historical/political settings (1939 Europe in the first case, 1953 Europe in the second) aren’t distracting like so many historical fiction settings are is that, well, these books are actually contemporary fiction, written very close to the times they are set in. Historical Fiction writers, take note of MacInnes’ balance: there are certain political things she assumes we readers know (like WWII is about to begin, for example), but doesn’t assume too much, and doesn’t shirk in her background descriptions. MacInnes also performs a second masterful balancing act: she switches POV just when we need it, not too often to be jarring but just so much that we get the right information at the right time. In a spy novel (or a mystery), that’s essential.
Bottom line: Both Above Suspicion and Pray for a Brave Heart are fantastic reads. I’m hoping the many typos I found in the former are just in my review copy, however.