Above Suspicion Review
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On the big screen, famous spies like James Bond and Jason Bourne battle bad guys from around the world. But in author Helen MacInnes’s classic 1941 spy thriller debut, Above Suspicion, a pair of amateurs are sent into enemy territory to attempt to do the pros’ job for them.

As the end of the school year approaches, Oxford professor Richard Myles and his wife, Frances, are preparing to spend the summer of 1939 vacationing abroad, hiking in the mountains. But then an old friend, Peter Galt, approaches them with an important proposition.

An essential member of Europe’s underground railway—a system set in place to help individuals escape Nazi Germany—appears to have gone missing. The agents who have tried to contact him have all gone missing, too—but Peter believes that a couple of tourists like Richard and Frances will be more successful, since they’ll be above suspicion. But their holiday in Germany soon turns into a harrowing adventure.

Above Suspicion isn’t the usual spy thriller, with seasoned pros gracefully maneuvering the day-to-day dangers of the job. Instead, it places a couple of unsuspecting (but above-average) amateurs into a situation that doesn’t turn out to be quite as simple and straightforward as advertised. Along the way, Richard and Frances run into all kinds of snags. They’re forced to endure the growing influence of the Nazis on some of their favorite towns. They’re followed by soldiers at every stop along the way. They have to watch without expressing the slightest concern as their contacts are hunted down and sent into hiding. They also have to watch every word, pay attention to every possible clue—and, of course, be very careful about whom they trust.

The highlight of the novel, however, is its historical setting—since it was written at a time when the world was closely watching Germany, bracing for yet another war. While you’ve probably read a number of novels that look back at this period in time, reflecting on it from a modern-day perspective, Above Suspicion is fascinating for its historical insights—because it offers a look at the thoughts, opinions, and experiences of those living in the months building up to World War II.

That said, though, this isn’t an especially fast-paced adventure. It builds slowly—reminiscent of an old Hitchcock thriller—as Richard and Frances start their journey in Paris, taking their time to make contact. And even as the tension builds, it requires more concentration than the average thriller. It’s all worth it, though, once you get to the last half of the book, when the couple is joined by a pair of new friends and the action becomes more and more gripping.

Still, Above Suspicion definitely isn’t a modern-day spy thriller. You’ll feel it in the pacing—as well as in the character development. While the heroes of the story are both male and female, Frances is often seen more as dead weight—a helpless creature who needs to be protected—than an equal partner in the adventure. And while she has her moments of cleverness, she’s generally a step or two behind.

In the end, though, Above Suspicion is a noteworthy spy novel—a fascinating fictional look back at an important time in the world’s history. It may not be as fast-paced as something starring Bourne or Bond, but it’s an intriguing adventure that’s worth the effort.

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