MacInnes, Helen. Assignment in Brittany. Boston: Little, Brown, 1942.
Among authors in the espionage category, MacInnes stands out for her lack of cynicism and for her faith in the essential decency of individuals who are willing to expose themselves to hazard for the sake of a good cause. This sensibility makes her work very distinct from that of many of the most acclaimed novelists in the genre, from Eric Ambler to John Le Carre. Some critics have observed that MacInnes’ characters are too close to simple types and that her plots are, conversely, unduly intricate. Yet, the enduring popularity of her novels seems to stem from her ability to convey her intuitive grasp of human character and her incisive observations about human behavior. In fact, the suspense in her novels almost always is character-based, regardless of how complicated the events are that envelop those characters. In her preference for protagonists who are typically amateurs infiltrating professional intelligence communities, MacInnes’ work is very similar to that of Robert Ludlum, though she does not share his predilection for finding conspiracies around every corner.
Most of MacInnes novels are set during World War II and focus on the Allies’ clandestine operations against the Nazis. Perhaps the most enduring of her novels is Assignment in Brittany. It focuses on a British operative named Matthews who impersonates a Breton nationalist named Corlay in order to gather intelligence on Nazi fortifications and troop movements along the French coast. Matthews’ mission is complicated by his falling deeply in love with Corlay’s fiancee and by the intrusions of Corlay’s mistress.
MacKinnon, Colin. Finding Hoseyn. London: Century Hutchinson, 1987.
Colin MacKinnon earned a Ph.D. in Near-Eastern languages, then worked in Iran for six years, initially for the Peace Corps and then as the director of the Teheran office of the American Institute of Iranian studies. He has subsequently reported on Middle Eastern affairs and has served as editor of Middle East Executive Reports.
All of this knowledge of the region has very much enriched his novel Finding Hoseyn. Set in Teheran as the regime of the Shah is beginning to collapse, the novel focuses on the murder of an Israeli engineer that should have gone unnoticed in the midst of the growing civil unrest. But a journalist named Jim Morgan becomes suspicious when someone seems to have quashed the story of the Israeli’s murder. Using his extensive contacts, he finds himself tracking the activities of an assassin, known simply as Hoseyn, to various European and Middle Eastern countries. Morgan is, of course, engaged in a very dangerous game, and much of the suspense derives from the reader’s expectation that the hunter will inevitably become the hunted. And, not surprisingly, Morgan discovers that the crime that started him on his quest for the truth was no simple murder after all.
Maggio, Joe. Company Man. New York: Putnam, 1972.
After serving in the Marine Corps and re-enlisting in the Army, Maggio served for two years with the C.I.A. in Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. Subsequently, he has divided his years between captaining sailing ships and working as a journalist. Although he has not been a prolific novelist, his experiences in Southeast Asia have become the recurring point of reference in his fiction.
Although ostensibly a work of fiction, Company Man is very close to a memoir of Maggio’s experiences as an intelligence operative. It provides a straightforward critique of the C.I.A.’s aims and methods. The play on words in the novel’s title suggests the significant commitment required of those in the intelligence service. But at the time the novel was published, as the last American troops were being withdrawn from Vietnam and the counterculture was entering the cultural mainstream, a phrase suggesting unquestioning commitment to any institution would immediately take on ironic overtones. Indeed, Maggio has described his writing of the novel as a “cleansing” experience, as an act of contrition of sorts for the “dirty” operations in which he participated.
Previous Posts in This Series:
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-26-29/