Goodbye California by Alistair MacLean (1977)

His speech had the fluency and precision of an educated man for whom English is not his native language. (p.86) Bad This is a bad, bad book. Why? Well, let’s start with the ludicrous plot, cardboard characters and almost unreadable style. Plot A muslim fanatic named Morro has concocted an evil conspiracy: he has kidnapped […]

Seawitch by Alistair Maclean (1977)

To wincing observers his modus operandi seemed nothing short of Draconian, but Cronkite would blasphemously brook no interference. (p.13) In the later 1960s and throughout the 1970s MacLean was one of the most successful writers in the world, forced into tax exile in Switzerland by the fortune his fast-paced thrillers and their movie adaptations earned […]

The Golden Gate by Alistair MacLean (1976)

Carter asked, ‘What’s he like, this Revson of yours?’ ‘Ruthless, arrogant, independent, dislikes authority, a loner who consults superior officers only under duress and even then goes his own way.’ (p.90) A sophisticated gang of criminals hijacks a convoy of coaches carrying the President of the USA, along with sheikhs and princes visiting from the […]

Circus by Alistair MacLean (1975)

‘What is it, Bruno? What drives you? You are a driven man, don’t you know that? You don’t work for the CIA and this damnable anti-matter can’t mean all the world to you. Yet I know, I know you’re willing to die to get inside that damnable prison. Why, Bruno, why?’ (p.90) The setting is, […]

Breakheart Pass by Alistair MacLean (1974)

In a new departure for MacLean, this is a historical novel, set in the Rocky Mountains in 1873. The story is entirely about an ill-fated train journey up into the snow-covered hills. Preliminary scenes in the frontier town of Reese City establish the main characters: Colonel Claremont – in charge of 5o US cavalry Colonel […]

The Way to Dusty Death by Alistair MacLean (1973)

‘Please don’t talk like that, Johnny. I’m scared. I’m scared all the time now, scared for you. There’s something terribly wrong, isn’t there, Johnny?’ (p.133) Suddenly, in this 1973 novel, Maclean’s grasp of style and plot have collapsed. I was 12 or 13 when I started reading MacLean and devouring his back catalogue like sweets. […]

Caravan to Vaccarès by Alistair MacLean (1969)

The plot This is a short (188 pages), intense action thriller, told in 10 chapters, but whose action can be divided into four or so parts. Prologue A terrified young gypsy, Alexandre, is pursued through a sequence of eerie limestone caves, until he is cornered, murdered and buried under rubble. His killers are other gypsies […]

Force 10 From Navarone by Alistair MacLean (1968)

Now it had come, Mallory knew. He looked at Andrea and Miller and Reynolds and Groves and knew that they knew it too. In their faces he could see very clearly reflected what lay at the very surface of his own mind, the explosive tension, the hair-trigger alertness straining to be translated into equally explosive […]

Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean (1967)

From the cable-car station on the lower slopes they had an excellent if distant view of the fire. ‘Are you responsible for this?’ she asked. ‘It was a mistake,’ Smith explained. ‘Yeah. His hand slipped,’ Schaffer added. ‘You two should audition for a turn on vaudeville,’ Heidi said dryly. (p.100) This is cracking schoolboy entertainment, […]

Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean (1963)

In the year Len Deighton published his second spy novel, Horse Under Water, and Ian Fleming his 11th, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, MacLean published his 10th thriller, Ice Station Zebra. Reading MacLean against Deighton brings out their relative merits and shortcomings. Where Deighton is brief and clipped to the point of obscurity, MacLean is […]