On the fictional island of Kheros, 1,200 British soldiers are marooned. Off the nearby Turkish coast, the Nazis have installed massive, radar-controlled guns that can fire upon any Royal Navy ships attempting to rescue them through the deep water channel. The only hope of rescuing these British troops is by eliminating the guns. That's where Captain James Jensen steps in.
Jensen's plan is to recruit an international special ops team that can climb the staggering 400-foot cliff to penetrate the island's defenses and detonate an explosive device. The team is led by Mallory, an excellent mountain climber with plenty of military experience in Crete. He is in command of an explosives expert, a savage fighting-man, an engineer, and a navigator. It's the perfect team for this harrowing journey through the snowy mountains into the mouth of Hell.
Having read MacLean's Where Eagles Dare (1967) first, The Guns of Navarone seemed similar in nature, but missed the cloak-and-dagger style. MacLean makes up for it in a big way by adding a hefty load of high-adventure action. At nearly 300 paperback pages, this novel has nearly everything, including mountain climbing, boat battles, gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, drama, and an exhilarating pace that glues the reader to these epic challenges.
The most interesting aspect of MacLean's storytelling is that he is constantly evolving these characters by placing them in extreme situations. The characters the reader meets at the novel's beginning are grossly changed by the last page. The experiences of war, overcoming adversity, and the trials and tribulations of defying death itself affects these men. I really enjoyed watching the transformation and specifically how Mallory's leadership was modified when faced with an injured team-member.
Lastly, as a fan of David Morrell's Rambo II character (read my review), it was fun drawing comparisons to MacLean's character of Andrea. The description that Mallory provides of this seemingly immortal, savage fighter, was similar to Colonel Trautman's description of Rambo. Andrea's exploits throughout the novel fighting the Germans, mostly as a loner hero, was a true highlight. I'm not sure this novel is quite the same without the addition of Andrea. It was an integral portion of the story.
The Guns of Navarone is an absolute masterpiece of high-adventure, and I give it the highest recommendation. You won't be disappointed with the story, plot development, or characters. MacLean deserved the heaps of praise his early and mid-career novels received. He was a master craftsman and you owe it to yourself to read one of his best. Whether this one is as good, or better, than Where Eagles Dare is up for debate. I love them both equally.
Note - British author Sam Llewellyn was commissioned to write two additional sequels - Storm Force from Navarone (1996) and Thunderbolt from Navarone (1998). I've read disparaging remarks about those two novels.