Friday, 22 January 1999

Helen MacInnes: The Double Image (1965)

Edition: Collins, 1965
Review number: 193

The Double Image is a competent spy thriller, not the chauvinist action of Ian Fleming nor the convoluted plotting of John le Carré but more straightforward and down-to-earth than either.

John Carey, an economist, in Paris while travelling to Greece to research the history of trade routes, meets his old teacher Professor Sussman by chance. Sussman has just returned from Frankfurt where he has been testifying at the trial of some former guards from Auschwitz. Their leader, Heinrich Berg, who grew up with Sussman, is believed to be dead - and yet Sussman has just seen him here in Paris. This would have seemed to Carey to be hallucinations brought on by the trauma of testifying, were it not for the fact that Sussman is murdered in his hotel room that same night.

Carey is now drawn into a world of seedy espionage; Berg is now posing as the Russian Insarov - with the explicit implication that the Communist states of Eastern Europe were harbouring many former Nazis. The climax of the book occurs on the Greek island of Mykonos, where just about everyone involved turns up, to take part in or to attempt to foil a plot by Insarov/Berg (the double image of the title) to kidnap a Western electronics expert from an American base in Smyrna.

The Double Image never really rises far above the commonplace, black and white world of the minor thriller; the author it reminded me of most strongly was Alastair Maclean. Accepting without question the commonplaces of the Cold War - East is worse than West, less moral, more unscrupulous - MacInnes never questions what is going on.

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