Night Without End by Alistair MacLean (1959)

Night Without End is the fifth action / adventure / thriller novel Alistair Maclean published. It inaugurates the series of books told in the first person by the kind of competent, mature, experienced, everyman hero who features in most of the rest of the novels.

It is by far the most gripping and exciting of his novels I’ve reread so far, impossible to put down, completely compelling from the first page, from the first sentence, when the half-Danish, half-Eskimo member of a scientific team on the remote Greenland ice cap hears the sound of an airplane overhead.

The plot is simple: our hero, with the bland everyman name of Dr Morris, is running a small research base high up on the Greenland ice plateau in one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet. It is below zero even in the pathetic shelter buried in the ice which they call their base and brutally cold outside. The plane they hear on page one proceeds to circle back and forth above them before it crash lands in the midst of the howling, freezing sleet of an Arctic storm and, before they can really prepare, the passengers need to be rescued.

You will not be surprised to learn that there is more to the situation than meets the eye and that Dr Morris, his young assistant Joss and the native Jackstraw are soon facing dangers of a kind they had not anticipated in a desperate, multi-levelled race against time through the appalling, inhuman Arctic weather and across 300 miles of the harshest lanscape in the world, to their supply base on the coast… A real cracker, sizzling with excitement and suspense, and really fast-paced, with the disasters and twists & turns in the plot coming thick & fast.

Related links

Cover of the 1970s Fontana edition of Night Without End

Cover of the 1970s Fontana edition of Night Without End

The first 22 Alistair MacLean novels

Third person narrator

1955 HMS Ulysses – war story about a doomed Arctic convoy.
1957 The Guns of Navarone – war story about commandos who blow up superguns on a Greek island.
1957 South by Java Head – a motley crew of soldiers, sailors, nurses and civilians endure a series of terrible ordeals in their bid to escape the pursuing Japanese forces.
1959 The Last Frontier – secret agent Michael Reynolds rescues a British scientist from communists in Hungary.

First person narrator – the classic novels

1959 Night Without End – Arctic scientist Mason saves plane crash survivors from baddies who have stolen a secret missile guidance system.
1961 Fear is the Key – government agent John Talbot defeats a gang seeking treasure in a crashed plane off Florida.
1961 The Dark Crusader – counter-espionage agent John Bentall defeats a gang who plan to hold the world to ransom with a new intercontinental missile.
1962 The Golden Rendezvous – first officer John Carter defeats a gang who hijack his ship with a nuclear weapon.
1962 The Satan Bug – agent Pierre Cavell defeats an attempt to blackmail the government using a new supervirus.
1963 Ice Station Zebra – MI6 agent Dr John Carpenter defeats spies who have secured Russian satellite photos of US missile bases, destroyed the Arctic research base of the title and nearly sink the nuclear sub sent to rescue them.

Third phase

1966 When Eight Bells Toll – British Treasury secret agent Philip Calvert defeats a gang who have been hijacking ships carrying bullion off the Scottish coast.
1967 Where Eagles Dare
1968 Force 10 From Navarone The three heroes from Guns of Navarone parachute into Yugoslavia to blow up a dam and destroy two German armoured divisions.
1969 Puppet on a Chain – Interpol agent Paul Sherman battles a grotesquely sadistic heroin-smuggling gang in Amsterdam.
1970 Caravan to Vaccarès – British agent Neil Bowman foils a gang of gypsies who are smuggling Russian nuclear scientists via the south of France to China.
1971 Bear Island – Doctor Marlowe deals with a spate of murders aboard a ship full of movie stars and crew heading into the Arctic Circle.

Bad

1973 The Way to Dusty Death – World number one racing driver Johnny Harlow acts drunk and disgraced in order to foil a gang of heroin smugglers and kidnappers.
1974 Breakheart Pass – The Wild West, 1873. Government agent John Deakin poses as a wanted criminal in order to foil a gang smuggling guns to Injuns in the Rockies and planning to steal government gold in return.
1975 Circus – The CIA ask trapeze genius Bruno Wildermann to travel to an unnamed East European country, along with his circus, and use his skills to break into a secret weapons laboratory.
1976 The Golden Gate – FBI agent Paul Revson is with the President’s convoy when it is hijacked on the Golden Gate bridge by a sophisticated gang of crooks who demand an outrageous ransom. Only he – and the doughty doctor he recruits and the pretty woman journalist -can save the President!
1977 – Seawitch – Oil executives hire an unhinged oil engineer, Cronkite, to wreak havoc on the oil rig of their rival, Lord Worth, who is saved by his beautiful daughter’s boyfriend, an ex-cop and superhero.
1977 – Goodbye California – Deranged muslim fanatic, Morro, kidnaps nuclear physicists and technicians in order to build atomic bombs which he detonates a) in the desert b) off coastal California, in order to demand a huge ransom. Luckily, he has also irritated maverick California cop, Ryder – by kidnapping his wife – so Ryder tracks him down, disarms his gang and kills him.

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