Classic Romantic Suspense
I can in no way fault Helen MacInnes’ Snare of the Hunter, originally published in 1974 and republished last year along with some of her other spy thrillers.
Though forty years old, the book doesn’t feel dated. Sure, characters must drive to the nearest village to make critical phone calls instead of whipping out their mobile phones. But cells probably wouldn’t work in the Swiss Alps which provide a majestic setting and challenging winding roads to Irina Kusak, who has escaped Czechoslovakia and her ex-husband Jiri Hradek, an ambitious official in that country. He has let Irina go, so she can lead him to her father. A renowned writer who defected to the West some time before, Jaromir Kusak now has written a novel that threatens to reveal Hradek’s most guarded secrets.
David Mennery, an American music critic with a good excuse to be in the neighborhood, agrees to help Irina escape to the West. Years before, Irina and he met in Prague and fell in love, a match thwarted by Irina’s mother, then a high official in Czechoslovakia.
This novel has well-drawn, realistic characters and a well-paced, plausible plot. No 007-style goons or high speed chases here, but the suspense kicks in at the end of Chapter 1 when someone who has helped Irina leave her home country dies. The suspense remains pretty constant throughout the book.
Besides getting caught up in the story, I admired MacInnes’s deft management of viewpoint. Though MacInnes presents much of the story from Irina and David’s perspectives (fairly standard in romantic suspense), she also incorporates the perspective of several other characters. In my own fiction, I tend to play it safe with point of view by sticking to one narrator, whether by the intimate first person perspective (“I”) or by the more removed third (“he” or “she”) throughout a story or book.
When I taught Creative Writing, I used to warn my students about “head hopping,” that is, shifting abruptly from one character’s perspective to another. I also advised them to place any shift at the start of a scene or chapter. MacInnes does that when she ends the first chapter in Irina’s perspective and opens the second chapter from David’s perspective. But in Chapter 4, inside the third paragraph, MacInnes slips out of David’s head and into the head of the flight attendant taking their drink orders. I didn’t get at all lost, though, or even jarred because of MacInnes’ smooth, skillful transition.
What does MacInnes accomplish by doing this? Well, it’s awkward to have a character describe himself. (He knows what he looks like.) So handily, the flight attendant observes David and speculates about him. We readers can feel smug because we know the answers to her silent questions. This immerses us farther into the story.
Later in the plot when the perspective shifts occasionally into a bad guy’s head, we feel the suspense a great deal because we know the dangers that lie in front of Irina and David as they flee through the towering grandeur of the Swiss Alps.
(I really liked the setting cluttered with the tourists, oblivious to the perils around them, who innocently visit those ruined castles and picturesque views.)
Even after the forty years since it first appeared, Snare of the Hunter still thrills.