Title: Above Suspicion
Author: Helen MacInnes
MacInnes, Helen (1941, 2007). Above Suspicion. Pleasantville, NY: IM Press
Date Posted: December 28, 2016
Review by Tom Nolan
MacInnes’ 1941 debut, Above Suspicion is set in the summer of 1939. A young Oxford couple, Richard and Frances, on the eve of one last vacation trip “before the volcano in Europe blows sky-high,” are asked by a friend in an unnamed government office to make contact with a ring of agents in several countries collecting information useful to England. Their subsequent adventures—in France, Germany and Austria—are reminiscent of such masters as John Buchan and Eric Ambler. What intrigues even more is the quick evocation of that long-ago time when smart London partygoers discussed Dalí, Picasso and Waugh and were sick and tired of Americans calling Britishers Nazi-appeasers: “You see, if it comes to a showdown . . . we’ll need words of encouragement from the sidelines, not jeers. . . . You wouldn’t call America a prohibition country today, although you lived with it for years.”
What a difference one more year made. In MacInnes’s second novel, 1942’s Assignment in Brittany, it’s the summer of 1940, and the war is on in earnest. An English spy parachutes into now-occupied France disguised as a captured French soldier to whom he bears a striking resemblance. The agent’s game of wits with Nazis and their collaborators raises the requisite chills—but, again, it is more mundane encounters with ordinary folk that transfix the modern reader and give the hero fresh heart: “As long as there was no wall behind your back and no firing squad facing you, there was still a chance. It wasn’t hopeless yet.”
Times and ideologies may have changed, but the outrage expressed by MacInnes’s decent-feeling characters remains the same. “What do these men think they are, anyway?” demands a U.S. newsman’s angry wife, “these men who think they can take away people’s freedom. By lifting a telephone. . . . By having a secret conference. By deciding, in cold blood, that a man . . . has no choice in where he is going to live. By hunting down . . . all the others who wanted freedom to choose. . . . They won’t allow any innocent man to have freedom of choice.” Confronted by such righteous indignation, what totalitarian minion had a chance?
 Tom Nolan, “The Lonely Lives of Shadow Warriors,” The Wall Street Journal (Feb 15, 2013). Downloaded December 28, 2016. Also reviewed is MacInnes, Helen (1942, 2013). Assignment in Brittany. London: Titan Books.