Message from Málaga: Suspense for the cerebral

After a week of business related to his U.S. Space Agency job, Ian Ferrier stops in Málaga, Spain, to visit Jeff Reid. Ian and Jeff worked together eight years before, gathering evidence of Khrushchev’s rocket installations in Cuba.

Flamenco music, US flag and communist hammer-and-sickle are incorporated into art on dust jacket of Message from Malaga
Music, flamenco dancing, and politics mingle.

Now Jeff works for an American wine importer, and Ian’s current work entails scanning the skies for another Cuba-type crisis, this time satellite-based.

Jeff remembers Ian’s love of flamenco and takes him to see the local flamenco star, Tavita, dance.

Before the evening is over, Jeff meets a man claiming to be a defector from the assassination division of Cuba’s Foreign Intelligence Service. As he goes to alert his superiors to the defector’s demands, Jeff is the victim of a cyanide attack.

Barely alive when Ian finds him, Jeff confides in Ian, who becomes a de facto CIA agent when Jeff is assassinated.

Message shows why Helen MacInnes became known for “highly literate” spy novels. Readers must be as alert as the intelligence operatives. MacInnes’s story is tense but restrained. Readers seeking explosions and high-speed chases should look elsewhere.

So too should readers who want James Bond-ish sex romps. Ian appreciates beautiful women but he’s not going to risk his life to bed one.

Message from Málaga by Helen MacInnes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich [1971] 367 p.
1971 bestseller #6. My grade: B+


Ship of Fools is vehicle for unpleasant truths

Ship of Fools is not a pleasant story, but Katherine Anne Porter’s rendition of the ship of the world voyaging to certain disaster makes compelling reading.

A German ship, the Vera, leaves Veracruz, Mexico, for Bremerhaven, Germany Aug. 22, 1931. Most of the first class passengers are ex-patriots returning home. They are joined by a sprinkling of students going to study in Europe, tourists, Catholic priests, and an aging Spanish Contessa who has been deported from Cuba for political reasons.

In steerage are 876 Spanish agricultural workers being deported from Cuba because the sugar industry in which they worked has failed.

Despite the number of characters, Porter makes them distinctive individuals. Each elicits , if not sympathy, at least a measure of understanding.

Being confined in a small ship for 27 days brings out the cruelty and bigotry of individuals. National and religious biases are magnified. All leave the ship with relief at finally being home in a familiar, comfortable place.

Readers see what the voyagers do not: home will not be better. Europe will soon be torn apart by cruelty and bigotry on a colossal scale, yet World War II will change nothing. People will remain blind to any interests but their own.

Ship of Fools
Katherine Anne Porter
Little, Brown 1962
497 pages
 1962 #1
My grade B+
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Floodtide Is a Wash Out

In 1850, Ross Pary returns to his native Natchez attired as a gentleman. He has an Oxford education and credentials as an architect. He aims to become a gentleman planter.

Before he is off the boat, Ross is smitten by the gorgeous, amoral Morgan Brittany, whose much-older husband becomes Ross’s best friend, helping him gain acceptance in planter society.

Ross falls for the daughter of a Cuban freedom fighter. He follows Conchita to Cuba and joins in the fight against the Spanish. Ross and Conchita marry just before they are caught and separated, each thinking the other is dead.

Ross goes back to America, where he eventually marries. Conchita goes to Europe and becomes a celebrated dancer.

As Civil War looms, Ross frees his slaves, incurring the wrath of his neighbors and his vehemently pro-slavery wife. Morgan connives to separate Ross from his wife, and succeeds in a way she never imagined.

Floodtide is a hodgepodge of episodes from standard romance fiction strung together with Ross Pary in the leading male role. Unfortunately, author Frank Yerby’s doesn’t stick with romance. He pulls in a half dozen other genres as well.

Whatever your literary tastes, you’ll find something to dislike in this awful novel.

by Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1950
1950 bestseller #6
My grade: C
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni