Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Valley of the Assassins

Using a combination of the names Ian Fleming (James Bond) and Alistair MacLean (Where Eagles Dare), author Marvin Albert (1924-1996) conceived the pseudonym of Ian MacAlister in the early 1970s. The prolific author of crime-fiction, tie-in novels, and westerns authored many books under his own name as well as the names of Al Conroy and Nick Quarry. Conveniently, at the height of the 1970s high-adventure market, Albert used the MacAlister pseudonym to write four genre novels. I enjoyed his 1973 WW2 adventure Skylark Mission, so I was anxious to read Valley of the Assassins, another of Albert's stand-alone paperbacks published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1975 under the MacAlister name.

The novel introduces a boater named Eric Larson. While being a part-time adventurer, Larson spends most of his life around the Persian Gulf escorting tourists, gun-runners and exiles into and out of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the opening pages, Larson discovers three bodies lying on a series of rocks in the islands known as the Arabian Nights. After learning that two of the men are dead, Larson nurses the remaining man back to health and delivers him to authorities in Iraq. Unbeknownst to Larson, the man hides a treasure map on Larson's boat.

Later, Larson is attacked on board his boat by two dagger-wielding assassins. After disposing of the killers, Larson discovers the map and goes down a rabbit hole following the treasure and a secret cult of assassins that can be traced back to 1072 AD. Larson teams with a Kurdish woman named Darra, the daughter of a famous freedom fighter. He also reluctantly agrees to an alliance with an Iranian cop and together the group embarks on a mission to locate the treasure.

Albert's intentions with this book are solid. The makings of any good desert adventure story would surely include a Middle Eastern treasure hunt involving Kurdish rebels and a secret order of assassins. However, the narrative crawls slowly and incorporates way too-many history lessons of the region. Of the novel's 190-pages, only 30-pages really have any action or movement. The author simply regurgitates what he likely learned from National Geographic for much of the book.

I never felt invested in the main character’s success or well-being and found the academic nature of the prose boring. This is a very different book from the high-adventure, high-octane action of Skylark Mission. I still have two more of these Marvin Albert/Ian MacAlister novels to read, but now I'm in no hurry.

Buy a copy of this book HERE


  1. “Driscoll’s Diamonds” is his book to read under this pseudonym. It also takes place in the Middle East, but is more along mercenaries chasing each other. He incorporates some interesting historical and regional elements and the pace and story are solid. Thanks for the review. I was told this was the best and was wondering about the others. I’ll try the Marvin Albert books first!

  2. The criticisms regarding the quantity of history presented herein are valid, though they do enrich the world, and I feel that the final 80 pages is taut and filled with smart puzzles, strategies, surprises, and standoffs in an extraordinarily well detailed terrain akin to what is found in H. Rider Haggard best works. I'd rank this one above the less smart (but still good) Driscoll's Diamonds and alongside Soldato! as my favorite Marvin H. Albert.