Showing posts with label Alistair Maclean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alistair Maclean. Show all posts

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

When Eight Bells Toll

The mid-1960s may be the best period for adventure writer Alistair MacLean. From 1963, the Scottish native released Ice Station Zebra, When Eight Bells Toll and Where Eagles Dare within three years. The three novels also became successful film adaptations featuring such leading men as Rock Hudson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins. Having read and enjoyed Where Eagles Dare, I wanted to acquire more novels by MacLean. I decided on When Eight Bells Toll. It was originally published in hardback and as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback.

When Eight Bells Toll is presented as a first-person account by a character named Phillip Calvert. He works for the British Secret Service and his direct report is Rear-Admiral Sir Arthur Arnford-Jason, which thankfully is shortened to the nickname Uncle Arthur for the bulk of the book's narrative. After several cargo ships were hijacked in the Irish Sea, Calvert is sent undercover to investigate.

As the narrative unfolds, readers realize that secret service agents were planted on these ships because of the cargo - millions of gold bullion. Calvert and his partner Hunslett explore Scotland's Torbay Island in the guise of marine biologists. There's a number of suspicious characters, including a wealthy Lord, a former actress and a shipping magnate. While Calvert is getting closer to the hijackers, he finds himself a target. 

MacLean's story is unlike high adventure novels like Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. In fact, I'd label When Eight Bells Toll a detective novel with adventure tendencies. The story follows a private detective formula with inquiries, interviews, shady ladies and mysterious characters. There are a lot of shootouts, underwater adventures and nautical nuances to turn it into a real page turner. Calvert is a likeable hero and the support casting was diversified enough to add a lot of twists. 

Whether you like gumshoe crime novels or nautical adventure, When Eight Bells Toll will appeal to you. Alistair MacLean's career reached a production peak at this point in his career, and this is just another chapter in his remarkable talent as a storyteller. Read it now, please.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Where Eagles Dare

In addition to being a catchy anthem of heavy metal and a hit movie, Where Eagles Dare is perhaps also Alistair MacLean's most beloved literary work. The Scottish writer enjoyed a prolific career with such incredible novels as Ice Station Zebra (1963) Breakheart Pass (1974) and The Guns of Navarone (1957). So, choosing the most recognized and loved MacLean novel is rather difficult. But, Where Eagles Dare, originally published in hardback in 1967, definitely seems to stay timeless with generations of fans and readers.

This World War II adventure novel begins in high altitude as a group of Allied paratroopers prepare their descent into Bavaria, Germany. The team is led by British Major John Smith and the objective of the mission is rather vague in the first chapters of the book. The beginning of MacLean's narrative has the group embark on the perilous landing high on a snowy Bavarian mountain range. After one of the members is mysteriously killed on the ground, Smith suspects there may be a traitor in the ranks. In addition, Smith conceals key information from the team regarding the radio transmissions and hides that another team member jumped from the aircraft to secretly accompany the mission.

The majority of this novel unfolds over a 24-hour period. Ultimately, the mission unveils itself as a retrieval assignment. A U.S. General who devised part of the strategy of the Western Front was captured by the Nazis. He is being held at the Gestapo headquarters in a castle named Schlos Adler. The Allied team has to disguise itself as German soldiers and infiltrate the castle. In doing so, they will save the General and preserve the opportunities of the Allies to continue building the Western Front. 

Needless to say, MacLean's novel flourishes with a number of high adventure scenes in the mountains, numerous car chases and gun fights. The iconic cable car scene from the book's cover is impressive and consumes much of the book's furious finale. However, my favorite aspect of MacLean's story is simply the secret agent formula of these men convincing many senior officials in Germany that they are indeed German. There is such tension in some of these intimate scenes involving a myriad of characters. 

There are also entertaining and funny exchanges between Smith and the U.S. Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (represented by Clint Eastwood in the movie adaptation) who help to lighten the mood. As one would expect, there are so many twists and turns that the story evolves into a completely different type of mission. In doing so, these two consistent and likeable characters really dominate most of the book's narrative.

Where Eagles Dare is as good as it's supposed to be. This is the iconic, captivating novel of high adventure that has been promised. Highest recommendation available. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 6, 2018

River of Death

“River of Death” was a late-career release for Scottish adventure writer Alistair Maclean. It was his 27th book among the fiction and non-fiction contributions. By the book's release in 1981, Maclean had made it big, writing numerous international bestsellers and a few screenplays. Unfortunately, the author would pass away just six-years later at the age of 64 (strokes fueled by alcohol abuse).

Instead of frigid Arctic Circle atmosphere, “River of Death” is set in the scorching jungles of South America. This exotic adventure is prefaced with a peek at Germany's downfall in 1945. Two Nazi SS officers, Manteuffel and Spaatz, are stealing a fortune in Grecian treasure from peaceful monks. After loading the goods and burning the temples, Manteuffel leaves Spaatz high and dry, escaping in a submarine with the riches to parts unknown. Spaatz swears vengeance on the traitor.

Fast-forward twenty years and a multimillionaire named Smith hires an adventurer named Hamilton to escort him to the famed Lost City deep in the Brazilian rain forest. There's a host of last names beginning with H that really keeps the confusion at an all-time high – Hamilton, Hiller, Haller and Heffner. It's uncanny. Essentially, we all know who Smith really is and the reader would be a fool to think the Lost City holds anything other than Manteuffel, monkeys and monk money. Maclean isn't fooling anyone. The adventure includes cannibal tribes, an anaconda attack and a rip-roar ride on high-speed rapids. While all of this sounds exciting, it's as flat as Taylor Swift's chest. The obvious reveal and fizzled finale left me closing the book and pondering how to recoup four hours. “River of Death” is the river of boredom.