Book Review: ‘Above Suspicion’

Author: Helen MacInnes

Publisher: Titan

Plot: Richard and Frances Myles lead a simple life at Oxford, with a annual trip to Europe to visit the mountains. This plan takes an interesting turn when their old friend Peter Galt makes a request – meet with a secret agent and follow a trail of clues to find out if one man is still alive.

Review: Helen MacInnes is a highly regarded writer in the field of espionage and had a forty year long career telling smart and exciting spy storys. What makes this debut from 1941 especially interesting is this debut feature  is how well she grasped the social situation under the Third Reich. The image of Europe painted in these pages is that of the everyday citizen as they either make do or find a way to defy the wave of oppression that threatens to drown them.

helen-macinnes-above-suspicionThe plot follows the movements of Richard and Fran, and without mincing words they are a fantastic set of protagonists. The older Richard is something of a tweed-wearing professor while Fran is a beautiful, young graduate who willingly speaks her mind and lets her emotion get in the way of reason from time to time. Although they may appear to be an odd match they certainly don’t feel like one, it’s clear that they understand each other and they compliment each other very well. This tale is much more fun to read with them as the guide. Along the way they ally with an American reporter and young Brit who are equally as well written and invested in the story.

For the first half of the story we get a very entertaining trail of breadcrumbs to follow around Europe. Each encounter with a member of the secret chain of agents is a unique and surprising character and the ways in which Richard and Fran must find them, identify themselves and collect the next clue is endlessly fascinating. Each different city is described with a many that provokes a rich imagery, and the tension in the air is thick even from this comfortable point in the future. Finding out how people of the time felt, and how they debated the problems facing them, makes for involving reading.

During the second part of the story things take a more action-orientated direction. Plans are laid out and executed and some nice twists and turns keep reader’s on their toes. Things aren’t quite as fun as the earlier chapters but there’s plenty of excitement still to be had. The climatic chapter is especially satisfying (although their interaction with the initial target is a bit lacking) due to the characters being so well drawn.

As excellent look at a time gone by, and another reminder as to why mankind must learn from their mistakes in order to move forward.