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Saturday 14 August 2021

Forgotten Authors Corner: Helen MacInnes (1907-1985)


Helen Clark MacInnes was born in Glasgow on 7 October 1907 to Donald MacInnes and Jessica McDiarmid.  She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1928 with a degree in French and German. MacInnes accepted an appointment as a special cataloguer for the Ferguson Collection at the University of Glasgow. She also helped the Dunbartonshire Education Authority to select books for county libraries. After her M.A. in 1928, MacInnes continued her studies a University College, London, where  in 1931 she received a diploma in librarianship. While working as a Librarian, she met and married the classicist Gilbert Highet, in 1932.  In 1937 she moved with her husband to New York.

In the 1930s, MacInnes collaborated with Highet to translate German Literature, which helped finance their summer travels through Europe. These European excursions gave MacInnes the exposure to the locations which would become the exotic settings of her espionage thrillers in later years.  In 1932, Gilbert Highet accepted a classics teaching appointment at St John’s College, Oxford and while in Oxford, MacInnes served as an amateur actress with the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Oxford Experimental Theatre.

Gilbert Highet served as an MI6 British intelligence agent, in addition to working as a classics scholar. Obviously, her husband's work in intelligence became a significant influence on the subject matter of MacInnes's novels. (Apparently Highet continued his work with MI6 even after moving to the U.S. in 1937) Highet accepted appointment as a professor and chairman of the department of classics (Latin and Greek) at Columbia University in New York City in 1937. During the following 45 years, MacInnes wrote 21 espionage thrillers, four of which were later made into movies. MacInnes became a U.S. citizen in 1952.

MacInnes's third novel, Assignment in Brittany (1942), was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French resistance against the Nazis. Her 1944 book, The Unconquerables carries such an accurate portrayal of the Polish resistance that some thought she was using classified information given to her by her husband.

In her later books, she shifted her subject matter from World War 11 to the Cold War and continued to produce about one book every two years until her final novel Ride a Pale Horse which was published in 1984.

Gilbert Highet died in 1978 and Helen MacInnes died in New York City on 22 September 1985, following a stroke. She was 77.

 Books by Helen MacInnes

Above Suspician (1941)                 Made into a film of the same name.
Assignment in Brittany (1942)                Made into a film of the same name.
The Unconquerable (1944)                    Also called While Still We Live

Horizon (1945)
Friends and Lovers (1947)
Rest and Be Thankful (1949)

Neither Five Nor Three (1951)
I and My True Love (1953)
Pray for a Brave Heart (1955)
North from Rome (1958)
Decision at Delphi (1960)
The Venetian Affair (1963.                     Made into a film of the same name.
Home Is the Hunter (1964),                   subtitle: A Comedy in Two Acts
The Double Image (1966)
The Salzburg Connection
(1968),           Made into a film of the same name.
Message from Málaga (1971)
The Snare of the Hunter (1974)
Agent in Place (1976)
Prelude to Terror (1978)
The Hidden Target (1980)
Cloak of Darkness
Ride a Pale Horse (1984)

1 comment:

  1. Helen MacInnes is a superb spy novelist, excellent at suspense and conspiracy in the WWII and Cold War eras. Though a bestseller in her lifetime, and still in print, she has unfortunately not received the attention or acclaim of male counterparts such as Ian Fleming, John Le Carre, or Robert Ludlum. Does anyone know if there is a Helen MacInnes society currently active?