Friday, September 16, 2022

The Guns of Navarone

Alistair MacLean's The Guns of Navarone was an eight-part WW2 serial that first appeared in the September 22, 1956 issue of Saturday Evening Post. It was compiled into a hardcover novel in 1957 by Collins. It was then printed in paperback in 1957 by Perma (M-4089) and reprinted multiple times since then. The book was adapted into a blockbuster film in 1961 by Columbia. In 1968, MacLean reunited some of the characters for the book's sequel, Force 10 from Navarone. That book was adapted to film in 1978. Never seeing the movies, my voyage into this story begins with MacLean's original novel, The Guns of Navarone

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. 

7 comments:

  1. Solid review of this classic, of which I too have a particularly high opinion. Certainly even by today's standards, with our expectation that action-adventure novels will be that much faster-paced and more action-packed than before, this one holds up very well, and was an important influence directly and indirectly. (It seems that the success of the film adaptation had an effect on the producers of the early Bond series, for example.) The characterization of the "indestructible" Andrea as a sort of proto-Rambo is certainly interesting.
    Incidentally, you mention Sam Llewellyn's sequels, but not Maclean's own Force 10 From Navarone here (which, the way things worked out, I ended up reading before I got to the original Guns). If you ever get around to it I'd certainly be curious as to your thoughts.

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  2. I really need to read this. Thanks for the review to spur me to do so. I've read several of Maclean's books but mostly his later ones which really tend not to be very good.

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  3. First Gold Medal printing was T1898 in 1968. Gold Medal did not issue this book in 1957.

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    1. Yep. Thank you. I was referring to Perma Books M-4089. I listed it as Gold Medal in error. Corrected :)

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  4. Started reading Maclean books back in my teens alongside Fleming and Higgins. Loved them then and still back and reread them every so often. His influence can still be seen in many modern writers. Guns is fantastic and I also highly recommend. Keep up the great reviews.

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  5. This review does a great job of highlighting what put Maclean's best novels above the other adventure yarns. You really can't go wrong with most of Maclean's titles from the fifties and sixties. Unfortunately, he appears to have tired of writing, and he succumbed to alcohol addiction in the seventies. I would recommend The Satan Bug or HMS Ulysses as your next Maclean read.

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  6. I did a book report on this in middle school. The teacher wasn't entirely approving of my choice but I like to think I read by far the best book of any in the class. Beat the crap out of a lot of those YA books and pretentious slice-of-life choices, anyway. I'm probably overdue for a re-read.

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