Neither Five nor Three by Helen MacInnes

Neither Five Nor Three

Paul Hadyn is back from WW2 Europe. Some years ago, Paul had been engaged to Rona Metford, but then decided that marrying in war-time would be wrong, and so the engagement was broken off. Several years have passed and now Rona is engaged to Scott Ettley. Scott has formed an alliance, unknown at first to his fiance, with some questionable friends who, if not at least outright Communists, have sympathies with the Communist party.

This novel portrays how these influences affect Scott and also how they ultimately affect those around him. For me this book was a roller coaster ride, as at first it started slow, then picked up in intensity and then slowed again as I guessed the only possible ending.

Although a slow start for me at first, the book did pull me in as I began to sympathise more and more with Rona and her dilemma concerning her fiance. Having conquered the threat of Nazism in Europe, now both America and Europe (as Paul Hadyn was only too familiar with), are faced with yet another form of government that is just as dangerous to individual freedoms and independence that were so hard-won. The author did a good job of depicting the publishing world and the attempts to influence society through the written word.

MacInnes makes a good story, making it more personal to the reader as the characters struggle to make sense of their associates and worldview. Who is guilty, who is innocent? is freedom of the press just a name for post-WW2 America, and how real is the danger of infiltration? Must there ever be a state of watchfulness, or is there ever a time when it is safe to let down one’s guard (even in seemingly innocent cocktail parties?) These and more are questions MacInnes brings to the forefront within the framework of characters in the New York City publishing world.

The plot has several strands that are woven together, family loyalties being just one of them . I really liked Rona’s sister Peggy and her husband Jon, a very down-to-earth and yet intelligent and ‘with it’ couple! Nothing much escapes them. There is the puzzle to unravel behind Scott’s seemingly practical reluctance to set a date for the wedding and then suddenly reversing himself and pushing for marriage within four weeks. The reader finds they are hoping that Rona discovers where Scott’s true loyalties lie in time!

The first two-thirds of the novel were fast and an easy read for me, but there were also occasions when I found myself pushing through the book . Although the author does a good job of portraying the helpless net of choice and repercussions that choosing a totalitarian form of government brings, for some reason I began to get bogged down as the events escalated. The ultimate downfall of Nicolas Orpen, the man who so strongly influenced Scott Ettley, was a somewhat contrived scene, and it irritated me that Rona was sometimes portrayed as weak and vacillating. However this paragraph at least attempts to redeem the author’s characterisation of women in general:

“I remember a Frenchman telling me during the war – he had been connected with the Resistance in occupied France – that the biggest surprise to him in the whole campaign had been the women. They could take more punishment than men. He’d send a girl on a dangerous mission – they did a lot of night courier jobs – and she’d run into trouble, nothing too serious but just enough to fray a man’s nerves into making a false move, and she’d not only get through her brush with the Gestapo, but next morning she’d be standing in her kitchen, trying to cook a dinner and blaming the Boches for the scarcity of vegetables.”

I have read that MacInnes’ husband was in the M15 and it shows in her writing! I enjoyed this book and am eager to re-discover her other novels.

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About Theresa

I live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York (no, *not* the big city!) in the country with my family, two dogs, two calves, and two horses. I love to cross stitch, quilt, read, and look at needlework blogs :) and I love coffee *and* tea!
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