Sunday, June 26, 2011

Alistair MacLean – When Adventure Was Grand!

After plodding through Jeffrey Deaver’s well-written but ultimately insignificant James Bond novel, Carte Blanche, I turned my attention to Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll. Here, at last, was a writer that knew how to create a memorable action scene. I last read When Eight Bells Toll about forty years ago. I am pleased to report it has aged very well indeed, like a fine wine with a heady aroma. All of MacLean’s books are like that. He possessed an uncanny ability to take a simple plot and turn it into a rousing adventure tale. Perhaps his best known novel is The Guns of Navarone. I’m quite fond of Caravan to Vaccares and western fans will no doubt recall Breakheart Pass. I would also recommend Puppet on a Chain, Force 10 From Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and Ice Station Zebra.
There isn’t anyone writing international thrillers today that has MacLean’s talent, although more than a few of them are making a valiant effort. But MacLean shared with Ian Fleming a zest for words, an understanding of character, and an eye for location. Do yourself a favor, pick up one of the new editions being re-released by Sterling Publishing. I think four titles are available now - When Eight Bells Toll, The Guns of Navarone, H.M.S. Ulysses, Ice Station Zebra and the Lonely Sea – with The Satan Bug, Where Eagles Dare, Bear Island, Force 10 From Navarone and Caravan to Vaccares scheduled for re-release in the very near future. You can visit the Sterling Publishing website HERE. Meanwhile, forget Carte Blanche. You’ll get more bang for your buck with Alistair MacLean.


  1. Nice to see that some people still appreciate MacLean's talents. He's also a long-time favorite of mine, which is why I set up the website, where I have reviewed all his novels and many of the movies based on them.

    If you haven't read The Secret Ways, I highly recommend it - it's #1 on my (highly subjective) ranking of MacLean's thrillers.

    P.S. I can't quite agree with your statement that "All of MacLean's books are like that." He produced some real dreck near the end of his career. But in his prime, from the late '50s to the early '70s, he consistently wrote flat-out terrific books.

  2. Hello Big Dave and thanks for commenting! I looked over your website and it’s great. You did a great job with the reviews. Yes, I should have mentioned The Secret Ways as it’s also one of my favorites. Oddly, I haven’t read some of the material he published near the end. The last one I read was Circus so I am referring to everything before, which is a substantial accomplishment by MacLean. At some point I’ve thought I might read some of those later books but I think the generally negative reviews have convinced me to avoid them. But who knows, maybe I’ll get to them yet. Thanks again for commenting!

  3. Hi Tom - Thanks for your kind comments about my site. MacLean's later works are a mixed bag; some are weak throughout, while others show flashes of his old form before fizzling. But he was so good for so long that I guess he can't be blamed for falling short in his declining years. - Dave


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