Author: Isobel Kelly

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The rudder of Isobel Kelly’s Brain Child is the unfolding relationship between 25 year old accountant Kate Adair and British agent Ross McKinley. Before the couple meets on a trans-Atlantic flight from England to Boston, Kate was a normal girl forced to live with her mother’s alcoholic second husband before he beat her and gave her a fractured skull and concussion which resulted in Kate gaining a photographic memory. 

Keeping her condition a secret, eleven years later Kate acquired money from the sale of her old home. Threatened by a blackmailer who, Kate thinks, wants payback for loans made to the abusive stepfather, Kate decided to start over in America and seek out a brain specialist who might help her understand what has happened to her mind.

For his part, McKinley is reluctantly traveling to the states under the orders of Desmond Crawford, head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, the SIS.  While McKinley is trying to extricate himself from being a professional killer for SIS, because of convoluted reasoning, Crawford wants McKinley to assassinate a popular and innocent U.S. Senator   whose aid for the poor has run afoul of billionaire villain, Thomas Carlow. Carlow wants the dead Senator, revenge against McKinley and Crawford, and to create a devastating radiation attack along the coastline of Boston before he dies himself. 

At first, McKinley finds Kate useful camouflage in his investigation of the Senator before the two become a team slowly, very slowly making a romantic connection. The partnership expands to include Colin Bradley, a former colleague of McKinley who is now living in Boston. This trio decides to protect  the Senator and do battle with Carlow instead.

More than once, I was reminded of Perhaps the most successful, and most critiqued woman spy writer of the 1950s and 1960s, Helen MacInnes. Described by some as the "Queen of Spy Writers" for best-sellers like The Venetian Affair  (1963) and The Double Image (1966),  critics said MacInnes's characters were "embarrassingly domestic" in their Manhattan middle-class apartments and Long Island summer homes. Likewise, the first half of Brain Child is mostly set in rather comfortable and cozy settings.   MacInnes was also known for characters drawn either as pretty much all good or all bad, and so too Kelly. McKinley might be a government assassin, but one with a very strong moral code.  Very few espionage adventures feature two protagonists who are adult virgins.  In addition, MacInnes wasn’t known for intricate, topical plots. So too Kelly.  Like MacInnes, Kelly’s forte is also personal relationships.

I was also reminded of the formula of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, Three Days of the Condor, and The Bourne Identity. By this I mean the pairing of an experienced male professional with an innocent female accomplice. Usually, these couples are on the run. In Brain Child,   Ross and Kate are as much on a hunt as on the run. Then comes the fourth act and Kelly really turns the screw. And then turns it again.       All the resolutions are surprising twists few readers are likely to have anticipated. 

I can’t say Brain Child is likely to appeal to many espionage fans.   Much of the book seems more like a low-key murder mystery without a murder mystery. I do think it will appeal mostly to female readers who like a large dose of romance in their adventure tales.   It’s hard to imagine many readers who won’t like Kate, Ross, and Bradley.