Logo: small map of Scotland
Link to Scottish Biography Index








Helensburgh
Helensburgh

Helen MacInnes lived from 7 October 1907 to 30 September 1985. She was a novelist. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Helen Clark MacInnes (sometimes spelled McInnes, though she published under the name MacInnes) was born in Helensburgh. After attending Hermitage School, she went on to the University of Glasgow to study French and German. She graduated with an MA in 1928 before studying for a diploma in librarianship in London. In 1932 she married Gilbert Highet, whom she had met at university, and they subsequently had one son together. Helen then moved with Gilbert to Oxford, where he had an academic post. They also travelled widely together in Europe.

In 1937, Gilbert Highet was appointed Professor of Latin and Greek at Columbia University and the family moved to New York. Over the following 45 years, Helen wrote 21 espionage thrillers, four of which were later made into films. Her early books drew heavily on her pre-war travels around Europe and all her novels are characterised by detailed and accurate historical and geographical backdrops. Her third book, Assignment in Brittany (1942), was required reading for Allied agents being sent to work with the French resistance. Her 1944 book The Unconquerables carried such an accurate portrayal of the Polish Resistance that some thought she was using information given to her by her husband, who worked in wartime British intelligence.

Her later books moved the backdrop from the Second World War into the Cold War and she continued to produce about one book every two years until her final novel, Ride a Pale Horse, appeared in 1984. In 1966, Helen won the Columba Prize for Literature. Gilbert Highet died in 1978, and Helen MacInnes died in New York in 1985.

Top of Page Top of Page