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This review is from: Above Suspicion (Helen MacInnes Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Above Suspicion is the first thriller by Helen MacInnes, an author largely forgotten about now, but once a very established and successful writer. She married Gilbert Highet, a Classics scholar, in 1932 and translated German literature with him. Like the characters in this novel, both her and her husband spoke fluent German and spent their summers travelling in Europe. Gilbert Highet also served as an MI6 British intelligence agent and his wife's novels were so realistic that her third book, "Assignment in Brittany" was required reading for Allied intelligence agents about to be sent to work with the French Resistance. As you can tell, you are in safe hands for a realistic novel about Europe in 1939, which is where Above Suspicion is set.
Frances Myles lives with her Professor husband Richard in Oxford. The married couple enjoy climbing and travelling in Europe, as MacInnes did herself. It is 1939 and Europe is poised on the brink of war. Frances and Richard are hoping for one last summer of peace, but it is not to be. When Frances goes to collect Richard from his rooms for a party, she finds an old friend visiting and he wants them to do a job. He is hoping they will go abroad that summer as usual, meet a man in Paris and then continue the journey as he directs them to obtain information the authorities need badly. An agent who has been running an underground railway in Germany has stopped sending the normal messages and they are afraid he has been captured or compromised and they are hoping that "a couple of innocents abroad might be able to get through all suspicion."
Richard is happy to go, but does not want Frances involved. Frances is, however, absolutely not going to be left and, as things should continue as normal, she gets her way. What follows is a chase across Europe, with the couple under scrutiny from the moment they leave England. Europe has changed - now men march everywhere, there is violence in the air, their rooms are searched and they are followed. While in France a woman states, "one war is enough for one lifetime," but war is coming and both Frances and Richard know it is unavoidable. While in Europe they meet up with Robert Thorney, who they know from Oxford, and Henry Van Cortlandt, an American journalist. "You're not the kind of people to handle trouble; you're not tough enough," Van Cortlandt tells Frances, but this is the story of normal people being called upon to do extraordinary things.
This really is a superb story - with excitement, seriously unpleasant bad guys and a real undercurrent of fear. With hindsight it is easy to say that everyone knew what would happen. In 1941 it was not sure at all which way the war would go and so, in many ways, MacInnes is writing some stirring propaganda here. During the novel, Frances attempts to explain to their new American friend why war cannot be avoided and gives a plea for friendship and involvement to the country she was later to spend the rest of her life in. Frances is an excellent heroine - headstrong, opinionated and always very brave, she believes in what she is doing. Above Suspicion was made into a film in 1943, with Joan Crawford, and it is wonderful to see her books appearing on kindle.