Last summer, Helen MacInnes’ bestseller spy novels were reissued in paperback and now some of her classic spy thrillers are available electronically from Amazon for download to your Kindle. If you’re not familiar with Helen MacInnes’ books, you might be aware of the exciting films that were produced based on four of her novels: Above Suspicion (1943) starring Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurry, Assignment in Brittany (1943) starring Jean-Pierre Aumont and Susan Peters, The Venetian Affair (1967) starring Robert Vaughn and Elke Sommer, and The Salzburg Connection (1972) starring Barry Newman and Anna Karina.
MacInnes traveled extensively throughout Europe during the 1930s with her husband, Gilbert Highet, a university professor and a secret agent for the British Intelligence Service, MI6. MacInnes experienced firsthand what she later described in her first spy thriller, Above Suspicion—the totalitarian twisting of the European continent during the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Austria.
Here’s a little background on this grande dame of fiction from Wikipedia:
Helen MacInnes was born in Glasgow on October 7, 1907. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in Scotland in 1928 with a degree in French and German. After receiving her M.A., MacInnes continued her studies at University College, London, where she received a diploma in librarianship in 1931. She married classics scholar Gilbert Highet on September 22, 1932. In the 1930s, MacInnes collaborated with Highet in translating German literature, which helped finance their summer travels through Europe. These European excursions gave MacInnes the exposure to the locations which would become the exotic settings of her espionage thrillers in later years.
In 1937, MacInnes and her husband moved to the United States when Highet accepted an appointment as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Classics (Latin and Greek) at Columbia University in New York City.
MacInnes’s third novel, Assignment in Brittany (1942), was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French resistance against the Nazis. Her 1944 book, The Unconquerables carries such an accurate portrayal of the Polish resistance that some thought she was using classified information given to her by her husband.
In her later books, she shifted her subject matter from World War II to the Cold War and continued to produce about one book every two years until her final novel Ride a Pale Horse (1984). She died in 1985.
I devoured MacInnes’ espionage novels when I was a kid at a time when you could only find copies of her stories hidden away in the local library. So it’s fantastic to see there is a renewed interest in her work. I highly recommend her books.