Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes

 Three Twins at the Crater School cover

Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1951, but the setting is New York in 1950, and the book reflects what was then the beginning of the ‘reds under the beds’ era which was taken far too far by McCarthy.

It begins with Paul Haydn on an aeroplane travelling home. He had stayed in the army after WW2 but now intended to get back into civilian life, maybe back to his old job on Trend magazine as they said that his job would be kept open for him. He had been engaged to Rona a work colleague at the beginning of the war but she had broken it off. It turns out that she’s still working at Trend and has just got engaged again, and Scott is a jealous fiance.

Rona has worked hard at her new relationship but it all seems to be on her side, Scott seems to spend all his spare time going to ‘discussion’ parties and it has taken him ages to get around to proposing. It seems that Scott has been wooed by communists who are trying to undermine American society.

This was different from the previous books that I’ve read by MacInnes as her books often feature espionage in WW2, Nazis or post war Nazi hunting. I believe that she got a lot of the ideas for her books from her husband who worked for MI6 and they did move to the US where he took up a post at Columbia University, while still working at MI6, so basically he was a spy.

This was a good read which probably reflected the atmosphere of the US at the time, in common with the UK it seems that people were expecting another war to come along soon. It was interesting that at one point Rona says ‘we don’t execute traitors any more’. Well she was wrong about that and it seems that the authorities ended up executing people who weren’t really traitors at all, such as the Rosenbergs.

Readers Imbibing Peril XV

I’ve come to the end of Readers Imbibing Peril, it’s the first time I’ve taken part and I did enjoy it. I did quite well I think, the only book on my original list that I didn’t read is Shirley Jackson’s Dark Tales. I requested this one from the library and it hasn’t arrived yet, I will read it when/if it does turn up.

The only author who was new to me was Raymond Chandler, I’ve been meaning to get around to reading him for decades, I loved The Big Sleep so I’ll definitely be reading more of his books.

A Better Man by Louise Penny

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes

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Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

Cloak of Darkness cover

I still regard Helen MacInnes as a Scottish author as she was born and grew up in Scotland and graduated from The University of Glasgow, however she married an American and moved to the US in 1937.

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1982 and it was the author’s second last book, she died in 1985. Despite being in her 70s by then this book was just as full of suspense as her earlier books and as there’s not much chance of travelling right now it was good to travel vicariously with most of the action taking place in Switzerland.

Robert Renwick is an American ex-CIA man who is now working for Interintell which is an anti-terrorism organisation peopled by agents from various western countries. Renwick is in London with his young wife Nina when he receives a cryptic phone call telling him to go to a particular London pub. There he is given a list of names, it’s a list of targets for assassination, and his name is on it.

So begins an adventure full of suspense and mystery as Renwick takes on a group of illegal arms dealers who have friends in high places. He also has the added worry that they will target his wife given half the chance, he just doesn’t know who he can trust.

I’m so glad that I still have a lot of Helen MacInnes books left to read.

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North from Rome by Helen MacInnes – 20 Books of Summer

North From Rome cover

North from Rome by the Scottish author Helen MacInnes is the first book that I’ve read from my 20 Books of Summer list. It was first published in 1958.

Bill Lammiter is a young and successful American playwright who has recently been dumped by his fiancee. She works at the American embassy in Rome and Bill is feeling bruised as Eleanor has quickly replaced him with an Italian man with a title. The story begins with Bill looking out from his balcony, admiring Rome in the dark and imagining the Roman soldiers who must have walked there in the past. His attention is taken by a young woman’s scream, she is being manhandled and is almost abducted and bundled into a car. When the man realises he has been spotted the woman manages to get away and so begins Bill’s unwanted adventure.

He had been hoping to be able to speak to Eleanor outside the embassy at some point, but when he does see her she is sitting at a table near his in a restaurant, alongside her Italian prince and his mother, then Rosana, the young woman that Bill had been able to help the previous evening joins them.

It’s all very strange, and becomes stranger. It seems that Eleanor’s new man is not what he appears to be. This is a really enjoyable thriller and I especially liked the Italian settings as the action moved from Rome to Perugia, MacInnes paints the landscape and gives a real flavour of Italy, no actual travelling required.

The Double Image by Helen MacInnes

 The Double Image cover

The Double Image by Scottish author Helen MacInnes was first published in 1966, so at the height of the Cold War and this book seems now to be a nostalgic look back to the time when spies were kitted out with seemingly innocuous items such as pencils, cuff links, tie clips and lipsticks in which could be hidden notes, microfilm or even a poison filled tablet for use in desperation.

The book begins in April in Paris where academic John Craig is doing some historical research. He’s very surprised to bump into an old professor of his in the street. Professor Sussmann looks very worried and it transpires that he has just seen a man that he had presumed to be dead years ago. Sussmann is an Auschwitz survivor and he’s in Paris to testify against a group of Nazis who are on trial in the city. Of course the Nazis are all claiming that they were only obeying orders, but the man who was giving them the orders is Heinrich Berg and according to Sussmann he has just seen him in Paris, although he was supposed to have died and been buried years ago. The worrying thing is that Sussmann thinks that he was recognised by Berg as they had been childhood friends.

So begins an old-fashioned but very readable espionage tale which ends up with John Craig becoming involved in a joint MI5, CIA and Deuxieme Bureau plot to catch Berg along with others of his ilk. As you would expect there are plenty of surprises along the way including double agents.

When the action moves to the Aegean island of Mykonos, a place that John Craig had intended visiting anyway, the sense of danger and tension ramp up.

This was a really enjoyable read, probably particularly if you remember the ‘good old days’ of the Cold War.

I love the dust jacket of this book but sadly my hardback copy has lost its cover. The one above is the one that should have been on my 1966 copy though, I think it’s very stylish.

What I’m Reading

Unusually for me I have no books that I can write about, this is what happens when you get stuck into the knitting season instead of reading – and when you choose to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. This one has been waiting for me to pick it up for years. It’s a Virago and has quite small print and 495 pages, but I only have 80 to go and I’m very much enjoying it. Just in case you don’t know, the Scottish surname Marjoribanks is pronounced Marchbanks. This one has been on my Classics Club list since I joined years and years ago, and I’m now on my second list of classics.

I have still been buying books, unsurprisingly and have recently added these ones to the piles:

Recently Purchased Books

The Rendezvous and other stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (about the Charge of the Light Brigade)
The Double Image by Helen MacInnes
The African Queen by C.S. Forester (I could act the film myself, but if it’s on TV I find myself watching it again).
Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken
Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit (featuring standing stones and more)

From that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library, I have:

Rosie Scenes from a vanished life by Rose Tremain
The Marches by Rory Stewart
They are both blogpal recommendations, and lastly
Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine

That last one will count towards the Reading Europe Challenge. Have you read any of these books?

New to me books

The weather has been lovely and bright with sunshine and blue skies here although the gritters are now around on the roads late at night due to falling temperatures, it’s amazing we’ve had no rain now for four or five days, I’m fairly sure that’s a record for this year! We drove up to Dunkeld, it’s one of my favourite wee towns, a scenic place to go for a walk and have lunch.

Then we drove a further ten miles or so north to Pitlochry, a much bigger town, it definitely feels like you’re in the Highlands there, it’s a bit touristy but for me the biggest attraction is the second-hand bookshop, situated in a building at the railway station, just a few steps away from the platform. The books are sold in aid of several local charities.

I’ve always been very lucky finding books there, but as I was going in a man was coming out, he had an armful of books and it turned out that the place was heaving with book lovers. I hoped that they had left me something to buy!

Books Latest

I needn’t have worried though. This is usually a good source of interesting old hardbacks for me, but those shelves didn’t have much in the way of fiction at all, but there were plenty of paperbacks, so I ended up buying:

1. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
2. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
3. The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens
4. Neither Fiver Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
5. Friends and Lovers by Helen MacInnes

Pitlochry is well off for second-hand bookshops as there’s another one in a street off the high street, it’s called Priory Books and I was really pleased to get Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy there, a nice old hardback with its dust jacket too. I couldn’t say no to a British Library Crime Classics anthology of short stories called CRIMSON SNOW Winter Mysteries. Perfect for reading around Christmas I think.

Have you read any of these books?

The 1968 Club

1968

At the moment I’m reading A Small Town in Germany by Len Deighton for the 1968 Club which has been organised by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. This week came around far too quickly for me, I had intended to read a few books for it, but here are a few that I’ve read previously.

A Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

It’s an eclectic mix I think you’ll agree. I hope to have A Small Town in Germany finished soon.

Orkney Book Purchases

For some reason I never gave any thought to the book buying possibilities in Orkney, but as we were driving around Kirkwall looking for a place to park I spotted a sign saying those wonderful words – Secondhand Books. Luckily after visiting the town centre, Saint Magnus Cathedral and two Historic Scotland properties we were able to walk back to the car and find the bookshop not too far away. So my haul was.

Latest Book Haul

1. The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson
2. Evensong by Beverley Nichols
3. Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie
4. Rogues and Vagabonds by Compton Mackenzie
5. Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes
6. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
7. Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
8. Off In a Boat (A Hebridean Voyage) by Neil M. Gunn

Six of them are by Scottish authors so they’ll come in handy for the Reading Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Have you read any of these?

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

 The Salzburg Connection cover

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1968. I remember reading some books by the author way back in the 1970s but haven’t read any since then, after reading this one I’ll have to track down as many others as I can because this was a really great read with loads of twists and turns.

It’s set some twenty-one years after the end of World War 2 but there are Nazis still around, they’ve been searching for things that had been hidden by them at the end of the war. There’s a bit of a race on to track down and recover a metal box which it’s thought has been hidden in a lake called Finstersee which is surrounded by the Austrian alps. Several such boxes have been found over the years, the Russians would also like to get their hands on this one, although what it might contain is a mystery.

This is a Cold War setting with spies and double agents galore – a great read.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Helen MacInnes was born in Glasgow and went to Glasgow University where she got a degree in French and German before going on to get a diploma in librarianship at London. During her librarianship career she chose the books for libraries in Dunbartonshire, which happens to be where I worked in libraries, but she was there decades before my days there.

Her husband was a British agent for MI6 and no doubt his experiences helped to fuel her imagination for espionage. Her second book Assignment in Brittany (1942), was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French resistance against the Nazis. Four of her books were made into films. Later in life she and her husband moved to the US.

Have you read any of her books?