Monday, March 4, 2013

Titan Books Reissuing Helen MacInnes's Spy Novels, and They're Great!

For as much as I enjoy spy movies and some modern spy books, I am woefully underread on the classics of the genre. I've seen a ton of Bond movies, but never read the Broccoli books. And when Above Suspicion and Pray for a Brave Heart landed on my doorstep last week, I learned that "the queen of spy-story writers," Helen MacInnes, was not only someone I had never heard of, but was responsible for some important fiction to the genre. I suppose I should just dive in from there, right?

Helen MacInnes was a Scottish writer who graduated from college with degrees in French and German before continuing her studies in librarianship. Her husband worked for MI6 (the British version of the CIA), and many of her books were so accurate and so well-written that they were either used in intelligence agencies as examples of espionage done right, or even suspected of using inside information to help them get written. MacInnes wrote 21 spy novels total over the course of her career, and Titan Books is reissuing a bunch of them over the course of 2013.

Regarding the reissues, I'll say this much, first: I got to read the reissued version of Above Suspicion that Titan Books is putting out, and it's a pretty impressive tome. It's a well done paperback version, the text feels crisp and clean (I'm not sure if there was any editorial cleanup, but it feels modern), and the covers really bring an old text up to date. The book itself, while seventy plus years old, also reads quick and current, with little in the way of jarring wording or plot twists that would throw a reader off (except for the constant references to the coming World War).

The story itself is solid as well - Robert and Frances are spies for the United Kingdom, and are trusted to head out on a mission that very quickly escalates into a massive European trek involving Nazis and a lot of racing against time and each other. It's a story that dives in within 10 pages, and generally doesn't stop until the very end. It's truly like a great Bond movie in that regard.

If I have some downsides to it, it's that the book does feel a little long (which may just be a relic of the time), even if it moves pretty quickly. Other than that, though, it's a story that holds up over two generations now. I look forward to reading more of them as time goes on, including Pray for a Brave Heart sooner rather than later, and hopefully they find a new audience in this new century. If you're into spy games and spy stuff, I cannot recommend these books enough, either as an introduction to the genre or something new if you're unfamiliar.

Available to buy from Book Depository.

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