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10 April 2015

Helen MacInnes: The Double Image

"Spooks" in the Aegean
This is a fascinating Cold War espionage thriller by the late Helen MacInnes set in Paris, Athens and Mykonos. MacInnes was well known for the many best-selling espionage thrillers that she wrote from 1941 to 1984 covering WWII and the Cold War.

John Craig, a historian, is on a working holiday in Paris when he encounters Professor Sussman, one of his old teachers. Sussman tells Craig that he has just been a witness at war trials and tells him about his experiences in Auschwitz, especially with one of the worst of the Nazis, Heinrich Berg. While Berg is known to be buried in Berlin, when a stranger approaches Sussman he is sure that it is Berg. The next day Sussman is found dead in an apparent suicide from his hotel balcony.

Through his sister, who has been working at the US Embassy in Moscow, Craig meets a strange mixture of people from various nations, many of whom eventually turn out to be in the espionage business and are seeking Berg who may be Russian Colonel Insarov. As Craig is the only person who has seen Berg he is persuaded to go to Mykanos where a major Russian espionage group is planning an exchange or a coup. Craig gets drawn into the web of intrigue and proves to be as good if not better than many of the professionals.

This is a complex and compelling espionage tale with all the hallmarks of knowledge of fieldcraft of the day. Microfilm is the preferred data form for transfer of information as data storage and cell phones were still in the future. While I was absorbed and involved by the plot I had some difficulty in keeping up with who's who, from what country and who were working together. In the end a fair proportion of the tourists on the small island of Mykonos seemed to be spooks trying to outdo one another in their secret trades.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and well crafted espionage thriller that took me back to the days of the Cold War. I certainly plan to read some more of MacInnes's books which are now being re-released in e-book format. Next time I plan to visit one of her WWII thrillers.

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