Ever bought a book for its cover? Would you have bought this one?
When I spotted this gloriously garish dustcover from 1968 on the shelves of a dilapidated, dusty charity shop in Dunoon, it promised old-fashioned frights aplenty. And now, some eight years later, thanks to the TBR Triple Dog Dare, and the fact that I’m on a run of Austrian novels or novels set in Austria, I’ve removed another layer of dust and finally read it.
It was £1 well spent.
Not as quaint as I expected, although in places, itwas corny and unfeasible. Yet it proved a thoroughly entertaining thriller involving a chest of Nazi secrets recovered from the Finstersee (sinister lake), and the race to take possession of it following the death of the diver who brought it from the depths. How many interested parties are there? Closet Nazis, Austrian police, Austrian secret service, the FBI, the Russians, the Chinese maybe, (I was losing count by this stage), a family in it purely for personal gain and an American publisher and his lawyer. In fact, the merry dance begins with a book contract gone wrong.
Crosses and counter crosses, in the days before computers, tracking devices and mobile phones. Old fashioned leg work, signals agreed verbally in advance and passed on in the way a book is placed on a table. The fact that the lawyer is a civilian who is allowed to take the key role in the pursuit of the chest is highly unlikely but he was such a well-groomed, courteous, honourable gent that I hardly cared, even when he couldn’t spot an obvious plant from 5 feet away. I was happy for him, when he and his new found lady love survived all the ruthlessness and peril and drove off into the distance at the end, because what is a thriller without a little old-fashioned romance?
Don’t think this novel is as superficial as my synopsis. Amidst the action are some touching psychological portraits of people damaged by the past. It’s also quite well signposted who has the most to lose if the chest is opened, and it’s hard not to sympathise, once his history is revealed. As for the lady spy, orchestrating from the centre, well, she is one nasty piece of work.
I hadn’t heard of Helen MacInnes before, so imagine my surprise to find she was a top selling Scottish espionage writer in her day, with a husband who worked for MI5. So there’ll be authenticity in the detail …. Interestingly, much of her back catalogue, including The Salzburg Connection, has recently been reissued …..
© Lizzy’s Literary Life 2016