Helen MacInnes Essay - Critical Essays


Helen MacInnes began her first novel, Above Suspicion, after an apprenticeship that included translating German works with her husband and taking careful notes on the political situation in Germany. Like her succeeding novels, it is based on the necessity of resisting the advance of Nazism. During World War II, the enemy was the Gestapo, the German secret police. MacInnes writes that after the war, villainous Nazis were replaced by communists and terrorists who were convinced of the superiority of their own ideologies and disdained Western democratic values, which they considered decadent. Because of their discipline, efficiency, and toughness the enemies of freedom could achieve limited success in the short run but were ultimately doomed to be overwhelmed by the forces of good.

MacInnes disapproved heartily of dictatorships of both the Left and the Right. Indeed, she considered herself a Jeffersonian democrat, and her books promote the ideals of freedom and democracy. The earlier novels not only demonstrate the evils of fascism but also insist on the danger of pacifism in the face of the Nazi threat. The later novels pitch the evils of communism and the danger of appeasing the Soviet Union. MacInnes’s work is not harmed by such overt political commentary. On the contrary, her novels lack the sense of languor and depression, even boredom, that certain modern espionage novels exhibit. MacInnes’s professional intelligence agents, a few of whom appear in more than one novel, are skillful operatives who love their country. There is no doubt in their minds that the Western democracies are morally superior to the governments of their enemies. This conviction is in strong contrast to the posture of the operatives in the novels of John le Carré or Len Deighton, who seem to see little difference between the methodology and goals of the Soviet Union and those of the West.

To convince the reader that Western intelligence operatives and U.S. State Department personnel are truly patriotic, MacInnes affords her audience glimpses into the mental processes of her characters. They are not professional agents, but they learn the craft of intelligence quickly after they are recruited by a professional agent for a mission. MacInnes’s early heroes are often academics, while later heroes include a music critic, an art consultant, and a playwright. Their occupations allow MacInnes to comment on the current state of painting, music, and theater, which, for the most part, she finds inferior to the comparable arts of the past. These heroes are typically good-looking, gentle, and kind, as well as brave, intelligent, and resourceful, but they are also lonely. Not at all promiscuous, these young men are waiting for the right woman to come along, and by the conclusion of nearly all the novels, they are usually committed to a monogamous relationship. The contrast with Ian Fleming’s James Bond is clear. Also unlike James Bond, MacInnes’s heroes are not superathletes and they do not possess technical devices with seemingly magical powers.

Above Suspicion

In Above Suspicion, Mrs. Frances Myles is the principal character, although her husband, Richard, proves to be braver, calmer, and more capable than she. In subsequent novels, MacInnes uses male heroes. Although...

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