Book Critique - Alfred Hitchcock's Sinister Spies (Hitchcock #3)

For review of other books or movies by Alfred Hitchcock, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A thoroughly entertaining set of stories that takes into the land of intrigue and suspense; into the world of spies and counterspies; into the shadows and light of espionage and danger. 

Alfred Hitchcock's Sinister Spies is the third book in the series Alfred Hitchcock created for young readers. The book was originally published in 1966. It is a collection of eleven short stories by famous authors about spies and espionage and danger.

These stories cover from World War I right upto when this book was published. Each short story had been written by someone famous, some decades ago while some in the recent past of the time the book was published in. The  illustrations were done by Paul Spina. Although I liked Fred Banbery's illustrations better which I saw in the previous book, Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful.

Again other then the little preface he has written at the beginning of the book, I couldn’t find anything else about how the idea of this series was conceived or how many more books he compiled hereafter.

The first story, The Strange Drug of Dr. Caber, was written by Lord Dunsany, first published in The Fourth Book of Jorkens in 1948. In fact the original book was also a collection of thirty-three short stories, each narrated by Mr. Joseph Jorkens; and this story is the twenty-second in the book. In this Jorkens gives a story about a perfect murder to the people in the Billiards Club.

The second story, The Army of Shadows, was written by Eric Clifford Ambler, first published in 1939 as part of another anthology, The Queen's Book of the Red Cross, which again in itself is a collection of stories by fifty British authors and artists. The original book was published as a fundraiser to Red Cross during WWII and sponsored by Queen Elizabeth. This is a very queer short story I found. It has a story within a story of the time during the war with Germany the narrator happenstances upon a shadow army. Both the stories ended abruptly and I would have liked a more formal closure. 

The third story, The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published as one of the eight stories in the collection, His Last Bow, in 1908. Readers are taken around an espionage tale that the Holmes brothers - Sherlock and Mycroft - investigate along with Dr. Watson, the trusty partner of Holmes. This would be the second and final appearance of Mycroft in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle. 

The fourth story, Somewhere in France, was written by Richard Harding Davis, first published in 1915. The plot involves chasing a German spy, Marie Gessler, across Germany and France, by the French soldiers, who keeps spinning webs and escaping them at the last minute. 

The fifth story, The Traitor, was written by W. Somerset Maugham, first published in 1927 as part of anthology of short stories titled, Ashenden: Or The British Agent. In this plot, Ashenden is tasked to find a British traitor working for Germany and caused death of another fellow-spy. Towards the end it felt heart-wrenching as the consequences of this traitor is seen.

The sixth story, Code No. 2, was written by Edgar Wallace, first published in The Strand in 1916, and later as part of the anthology The Stretelli Case And Other Mystery Stories in 1930. This story is a classic spy vs spy tale, where Bland working in The Intelligence Department, suspects one of his employee to be a spy. His task was to outsmart him before the secrets are sold to foreign countries.

The seventh story, The Problem Solver and The Spy, was written by Christopher Anvil, first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1965. Richard Verne, a heuristician aka The Problem Solver, is brought in to a situation where an enemy spy needed to be literally ferreted out from the deep dark caves he crawled into.

The eighth story, The Uninvited, was written by Michael Gilbert, first published in 1960. I couldn’t find which book of Gilbert that this short story belonged to, but it revolves around two counter-intelligence British agents, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens. This time these two fight for their lives in order to capture a spy from their past. Again this tale left wrenching my heart.

The ninth story, QL696.C9, was written by Anthony Boucher, first published in 1943. The title is actually referring to the library card catalog number that the victim was typing last before being killed. Detective Lieutenant Donald MacDonald was called in to solve the murder of the branch librarian and cataloguer, Miss Alice Benson. A very bookish murder if I may so, excellently penned.

The tenth story, Legacy of Danger, was written by Patricia McGerr, first published in 1963. It is one story from the Selena Mead Series by McGerr which is collected under the same name as this short story. We see Selena solving her very first case as an operative of Section Q - the murder of her husband, Simon. 

The eleventh and final story, Citizen In Space, was written by Robert Sheckley, first published in 1955 in Play Boy magazine. Originally titled as "Spy Story", it later became part of the anthology of short stories by Sheckley that was published in the same year with the same name as this story. A futuristic science fiction spy tale where a Suspect flies to his own planet in deep space followed my misfits of Spies who spy on him. A subtle humor hidden through the length of the plot. 

Other than the fact that I had heard a radio show of an old time radio detective series where one of the case was about a librarian being murdered, pretty much rest of the cases were new to me. I tried to find the episode I heard on the podcast but couldn’t find it.

Again this book was a quick read for me, hardly took a day to finish it. Although catered to young readers, the stories certainly garner interest in the field of subterfuge and the consequences of betraying your country or committing treason.

After reading the last story, I came to understand what Hitchcock meant by this line in the preface - "They cover the whole period from World War I right up to the day after the day after tomorrow." 

A thoroughly entertaining set of stories that takes readers into the land of intrigue and suspense; into the world of spies and counterspies; into the shadows and light of espionage and danger. Hitchcock's compilation is a must read for any young reader. I have to remember to suggest this to my nephew once he is old enough to read such books. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. As we already know that the story, The Strange Drug of Dr. Caber, is part of another book with short stories narrated by Jorkens. However, in this short story, there seems to be  two narrators - one is of course Jorkens, and the other who is actually retelling the entire episode. Who might be the second narrator, I wonder?

2. Sub-Plots:

a. Mycroft Holmes is described as tall and portly by Doyle. However the British TV show Sherlock has Mycroft, tall and lean, and has far more expanded role than what Doyle had given the readers in the books. 

b. Adaptations of the stories:

i. The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans has several adaptations in the form of either TV series, Movie Series or on Radio. Check them here.

ii. A movie was made in 1916 based on the book Somewhere in France, a silent era movie. 

iii. The stories from Ashenden: Or The British Agent, including The Traitor listed here have been made into several TV, Movie and Radio adaptations. Check them here.

3. Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. On Pg. 162, Line 21, Mr. Behrens irritatingly mentions to get on before his sister is back. However from the beginning of this short story, The Uninvited, Mr. Behrens was living with his aunt, not the sister. 


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