Saturday, July 30, 2011

Circus - Alistair MacLean

 Circus is actually one of Alistair MacLean's novels I haven't actually read before, let alone heard of!! I can't even recall having seen a copy ever in my life, so this was gladly accepted into the pile of books I borrowed from my local library earlier this week. If you have read any of my preceding reviews on any of Alistair MacLean's novels, you will notice that most of them war based, as I have read very few of his other types of thrillers.

 Circus then is very much classic MacLean. The premise here is very solid, and it could be made into a very good movie with the right script writer, and director at the helm. The only thing that was a bit far fetched was the idea of the 'anti-matter'. Apparently an un-named Eastern European country has developed anti-matter for weapons use, and the US wants to steal the formula and get into this new area of the arms race.

 The idea of anti-matter is far fetched but it does anchor an otherwise excellent thriller. The cover is a fair indication of what transpires in the novel, and for me it is a good example of MacLean's prodigious imagination. Here he uses a circus aerialist, who is recruited by the CIA to break into the infamous high security prison in the fictional city of Crau. It also houses a research facility where a German scientist, who has defected eastwards, has developed the anti-matter. The prison is connected to a nearby power station by a 300 yard long high tension power cable.

 Well it is obvious how the recruited agent is to get into the prison. But MacLean, as usual, starts of this novel with the usual twists, turns, cross and double crosses, and several murders. It is his usual espionage novel, and this one is very good because the traitor is deviously hidden until a few pages from the end, ( and it wasn't who I expected at all! ). But typically of MacLean, and this is a criticism, he builds up to the action point of the novel well but he finishes it all too rapidly. The prison break in is in only the last fifth of the novel, and yet is the whole point of the story. The build up is superb, being valid and suspenseful, but all too often MacLean has a rushed feel to how he winds up his novels, and Circus is no different.

 The other thing I've noticed with MacLean, after having read a few of his novels consecutively, is his constant use of the word 'indeed. He indeed uses it alot, and indeed it is indeed a bit painful after a while. Indeed it is, indeed. The other thing is he used a similar premise from The Golden Gate where, instead of pistols being used, two innocuous pens with poison and gas are substituted. It smacks a bit too much of James Bond and 'Q's' gadgets, and I didn't like how he used them in two consecutive novels. Circus being written the year before The Golden Gate ( Golden Gate being published in 1976 ). But those criticisms aside, Circus is a good read with a very original premise.

 It is, like all MacLean's novels, extremely readable and I sped through its 286 pages several nights ago. As MacLean novels go he was in his hey day in the 1970's, and this has all his classic hallmarks which made him one of the 20th Centuries most popular authors. The anti-matter angle is a bit too far fetched for my tastes, but overall the premise is very solid with MacLean's deviousness in introducing a well disguised traitor into the mix. My only real problem is that the novel ends with an all too rushed feel, which somewhat degrades the superb buildup to what should have been a longer, more exciting climax than what he delivered.

 In short MacLean at his best, and still a worthy read even though somewhat flawed and dated in feel. Amazon has this with 4 1/2 stars out of 5 from 9 reviews. It is a fair grade as it is a good example of MacLean at his very best.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Explorers Of The New Century - Magnus Mills

 I picked this off the shelf for its brevity, and at 184 pages it is brief! So brief in fact that I managed to read it in the time I got home, until my dinner hit the table! So it is short, concise.....and somewhat strange.

 The novel starts out as an abstract look at the Scott/Amundsen race to the South Pole. Whilst neither of those explorers are actually named, the reader is left in no doubt who the characters are based on. But here things get murky because there is no date mentioned, the continent they are on isn't named, the landscape and climate certainly aren't Antarctic like, and then wham, right in the middle of it all a strange twist takes place.

 I won't go into the twist and spoil the novel for you who may venture into reading it, suffice to say...wt? came to mind!! I've read a number of reviews elsewhere and wt? is a common comment! I don't mind the Scott/Amundsen race to the Pole analogy, but the 'Mules' of the WT? thought were too much, and unfortunately Mills finishes the novel with it all unexplained. I may just be extremely thick ( hence 'an intellectual mediocrity'! ), but this was unsatisfying, because really the twist had no real seeming point.

 The only thing I could figure was it smelt of the Nazis pre-war plan to transport all of Europe's Jews to Madagascar as an answer to their notorious, 'Jewish Question'. But Mills takes it further as one of the surviving 'Mules', comes to realise the reason for the expedition, and slowly turns the expedition in her favour. She and her fellow 'Mules' are initially maligned, ( being at no time identified race wise ), yet she eventually comes to be called 'Princess', and is carried on a litter into her new realm. She has turned the tables on her detractors. It all smells of,  class, racism, bigotry, etc, and yet it is never revealed to be the point. I get he is driving at a 'humanity' angle but he just doesn't bring enough light of his ideas.

  It is all so strange, and frustrating, because even though I like abstract, I don't like the fact that Mills has muddied the abstractness so much as to leave the reader totally confused. In all honesty any reader will be dismissive of the novel over all. I really can't figure it out, or come to any satisfying, or even any half way coherent conclusions about what this novel is about, or saying!! It starts out as any explorer novel would, and when the twist hits I had a double take, and had to read it again!! It took me by surprise, and I then couldn't stop reading as I wanted to get to the 'what's it all about finale'. Sadly there isn't one as such, and it leaves a somewhat bad taste in the mouth at the unsatisfactory ending.

 Strange, very strange. It is an interesting premise but somehow Magnus Mills stuffs it all up. He muddies the waters so much, to the point where there really is no rational rhyme, or reason to the novel at all. Every review I have read on this novel says the same thing. Wt? is it about??!! Overall I can't say, ' yes read this novel', and yet it is worth reading just to see how an author can quite literally 'fuck it up'!!! Since it is a very easy read, I do say give it your consideration, as you'll read it in a matter of a few hours. It is a good example of how to leave your audience hanging, and ultimately alienated.

Amazon has this with 4 out of 5 stars. I personally give it 3/5, solely because of its inconclusiveness after a good start.

Monday, July 25, 2011

King Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard

'The Most Amazing Book Ever Written'.

Banners around London in 1885 advertising the novel.

 As Richard Matheson's, 'I am Legend', by itself influenced the zombie genre, Henry Rider Haggard's 1885 novel, King Solomon's Mines', is also an incredible influential work. With its eventual publication, ( it took Haggard six months to find a publisher ), King Solomon's Mines single handily created the 'Lost World' genre, which saw the likes of Edgar Rice Burrough's 'The Land That Lost Time', Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Lost World ( catalyst for 'Jurrassic Park' ),  Rudyard Kipling's, 'The Man Who Would Be King', and even Lee Falk's, 'The Phantom', published within the genre. More recently Michael Crichton's, 'Congo', was added.

 But possibly its most influential claim to fame can be that the novel's main protagonist, Allan Quatermain, became the template for Indiana Jones. Haggard though based his original character on real life British big game hunter and explorer Frederick Courtney Selous.  Haggard himself had extensive knowledge on Africa, the continent the novel is based in, from being a 19 year old who witnessed the Anglo-Zulu, and First Boer War. He became impressed by South Africa's immense mineral wealth and ruins of ancient African ruins.

 His experiences and observations aided him well for he wrote this, his third novel, after a bet with his brother, who said he couldn't write a better novel than Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel, 'Treasure Island'. Haggard considered it a poor book and proceeded to write King Solomon's Mines in a space between six weeks to six months. At first he couldn't find a publisher, but six months later he did and it was an instant sensation with printing presses unable to keep up with demand.

 The novel was the first novel written in English about Africa. When published sales banners around London praised it as 'The Most Amazing Book Ever Written'. It immediately captured the public imagination and became a best seller. For it's era it was missing the ornate language and writing style of the late 19th Century, and yet even today is a satisfying read literally wise. Haggard after the success of this novel went onto a successful thirty year writing career, particularly with 1886's 'She'.

 The novel opens with protagonist and narrator, Allan Quatermain, writing in a very easy conversational style. Through Quatermain Haggard not only tells a fictional story of a lost land called 'Kukuanaland' and the lost mines of wealthy, wise, Solomon of the Bible fame,  he also expresses to the reader the prevalent colonial views of the era. It is a typical novel of the late 19the Century as most novels did have a real life element of realism as a backdrop to the storyline.

 For its time it is quite open on the question of race as Haggard refuses to use the word 'nigger' for Blacks,( but does call them 'Kafir' ). He makes it quite clear that the blacks were like whites in having good and bad eggs. One can quietly read between the lines as Haggard all but says that he thinks most blacks are better people than whites, and says they also were entitled to be called 'gentlemen',o and general respect. When you read this it is surprising the novel was so popular with what must have seemed almost blasphemous in the 1880's.

 Haggard's knowledge of Africa is obvious as he vividly describes hunting game for meat, and elephants for ivory. The fearsome 'tetsi 'fly get a mention, ( can't be an African novel without one could it?! ), as well as the heat, dust, and general landscape of South Africa. For it's day the African continent must have seemed like a different planet, and the reader can instantly see why this novel captured the public imagination in 1885.

 But the story is the real key here and for its time it was a ripper! As I read it though I couldn't escape a feel of quaintness about it. But this is due to our modern world of instant communications etc, making us more worldly wise than those of the 1880's. It has dated somewhat but not to the point of irrelevancy or un-readability. Even though it hasn't the convoluted writing style associated with the era it is still a challenging read. At 200 pages it isn't a long novel as such, but the text is very small and it took me two nights to finish.

 I have wanted to read this novel for some time and it didn't disappoint. I like 19th Century literature, and whilst this has a dated feel, if you sit back and look at how this novel was received in an era when little was known about Africa, it then becomes an outstanding novel. For its time it fused the real Africa with the myth of King Solomon's Mines, and added a twist with the mine being within a 'lost land'. To have read this in 1885 must have been an extraordinary experience, and even though it may be more familiar to us today, the novel is worth reading as this is where Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park were born!! There have even been no more than six film adaptations made of this novel!

 Quaint for it's datedness. But it is an extremely influential novel who resonance still sounds today, which is why it has endured. Recommended on so many levels!

The Golden Gate & Partisans - Alistair MacLean

 After having read The Guns of Navarone several weeks ago I was in a kind of an Alistair MacLean zone, so it was with pleasure that these two novels were in my library the other day. Suffice to say with their easy readability I read them in two successive nights!

 The first novel, The Golden Gate, was written in 1976 and is classic Alistair MacLean. As I read this I was impressed by how MacLean pre-dated Tom Clancy by two decades because this novel smacks of 1990's Clancy at his best, ( albeit without the meticulous attention to detail ). MacLean wrote in a very concise manner, and whilst it appears somewhat simplistic, he manages to pack a lot into such short novels.

 The Golden Gate is 365 pages long and I managed to read it in one night. The plot revolves around a master criminal who kidnaps the President of the United States on the Golden Gate Bridge. It is classic MacLean and here he is at his imaginative best. As stated the whole plot could have been lifted straight from a Tom Clancy novel as both authors had vivid imaginations, and could write taut, tense thrillers, very well. MacLean isn't regarded as one of the 20th Centuries best, and most popular authors, for nothing.

Cover of the edition I read.

 Even though this novel is now 35 years old it is still surprisingly fresh, and much of the technology used in it is still identifiable to more modern readers. In any respects it is amazing that with many of his novels having been adapted to film that this one hasn't either. Maybe closing the Golden Gate Bridge to film a movie is the reason!!...but still it has a good plot and would adapt to film well.

 Certainly a good thriller and Alistair MacLean at his best. Tense, suspenseful, with a good plot and premise, this is still a good solid novel, with a freshness to it. Maybe dated in terms of detail when compared against say Tom Clancy who wrote novels of similar premises, but worth a read when you want something quick and easy whilst still satisfying.

 Amazon has this with 3 1/2 stars out of 5 from 10 reviews. That is probably fair due mainly to its age, and nothing more.


Cover from the first edition.
 Amazon has this 1983 novel with 2 1/2 stars out of 5 from again, 10 reviews. By this stage of his career MacLean was an alcoholic and his novels suffered accordingly. Even devoted fans saw a decline in his novels. Apparently as he declined in the 1980's ( dying in 1987 due to his alcoholism ), he wasn't selling anywhere near the amount of novels he did in his heyday. Because of this his novels have been out of print in the U.S for many years, and yet have continued to be re-printed in the U.K.

 I remember reading this novel when about 12 or 13. When picked this up last night I couldn't re-call if I had actually read it, but as I got into it things felt vaguely familiar. When I looked for a picture to use here I immediately remembered the original cover though! Both covers I have used here are surreptitious as the novel has no war action what so ever. The car hitting the mine is nonsense, by 1983 not to mention the Stuka attack!

 MacLean may have been past his best in 1983, yet this is still a fine novel which displays his particular forte superbly, namely the cross, double cross and trust mis-trust he was so deft at writing. This may not be considered vintage MacLean and yet I really enjoyed this novel. But it has flaws. In premise the characters are meant to be a polyglot of Yugoslavs and Italians. And yet none of them read as Yugoslavs! They are more like British characters, and unfortunately the premise of subterfuge and mis-trust within the polyglot of wartime Yugoslavs is hard to buy into. The plot, etc, is superb, but with no Yugoslav feel what so ever.

  But that aside, even though Maclean was past his best, he could still  produce a novel with more twist and turns than any other writer of his generation. Partisans is flawed but still a worthy read. Unfortunately it isn't a war novel as such being more an espionage novel, and it lacks any action. The end is somewhat lame, and overall MacLean failed to capture the deceit and mis-trust inherent within Yugoslav politics during the war.  At times the suspense is rather weak and there isn't enough of the hardness I'd expect from those living and working in the shadows. It is all a bit too nice and cheery at times, and shows how MacLean had  somewhat lost his grip on the events he was attempting to write about.

  Not Alistair MacLean at his best but still a creditable novel even though flawed with a real lack of grit and feel of the shadowy world of espionage. The plot is solid and classic MacLean but it isn't dirty, or tense enough in feel to really satisfy. One for MacLean aficianados only? Possibly, but I grew up reading him as a boy and for me it is a real pleasure, and trip down memory lane, re-visiting the novels of one of the last centuries biggest and best novelist. Even past his best he still could write a reasonable novel.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thunderbolt From Navarone - Sam Llewellyn

 Whew, all done and dusted!! All 856 pages of the four Navarone novels are now under my belt as I finished off Sam Llewellyn's final novel, Thunderbolt From Navarone, only moments ago. As a novel it far surpasses his last novel even though it is only 180 pages long!

 Unfortunately even though it isn't a bad novel full of plenty of action, Llewellyn has laden this novel with one or two cliques that cheapen it somewhat. Firstly in the first chapter a German ship is sunk called the Kormorant by a British submarine called the Sea Leopard. Both names are from novels published from around the same time, and the nod to them is unmistakable. The second cheap clique is the use of the number M-109 on the MTB the team use to get to Kynthos. If you know your history you will be aware that President John F. Kennedy served on a PT boat in the Solomons Campaign with the number PT-109!! Cheap and un-necessary I'm afraid Mr. Llewellyn.

( On the 11th of August Sam Lllewellyn himself left a short comment on this review. He has pointed out several of my errors of judgement. I wish to make them clear here instead of re-writing the whole review! Mr Llewellyn HAS NOT taken a cheap shot at Sea leopard, Kormorant, and Kennedy's Pt 109 number. Look in the comments section for the rest of his otherwise pleasing comment. I'm surprised an author of any of the books I've reviwed has taken the time to read my musings. It has been an interesting experience!! ) )

 But that aside this final Navarone novel isn't too bad. It has the usual formula of following immediately on from the preceding novel and has the mission impossible with a traitor in the mix. It is probably fortunate that this is the last novel because after four novels the premise is somewhat worn thin and predictable. The premise of this novel isn't quite as implausible as the last novel as it uses the V rockets as a plot line. But like the last three novels the rockets are huge and potential war winners for the Germans, so Mallory and his team are again assigned mission impossible to go in and destroy them!

 What follows isn't too bad an action novel. It was a bit more full on than the last novels and once the bullets started to fly they pretty much didn't stop! Of course what follows is the usual formula of the Navarone novels and the climatic explosion as Corporal Miller blows the rockets to kingdom come is virtually the last paragraph of the book. But it does poke a bit of fun at the ending of the last three novels with Captain, now Admiral, Jensen speaking his immortal words, ' I have one last job. Just a small one' !!

 Certainly an improvement on Storm Force and I would say it is fortunate that this is the last Navarone novel written because it feels that Llewellyn with his cheeky poke at other novels titles, and use of JFK's PT number, he may have lost interest. It is a premise that has been stretched to its limit and without a major over haul could have become an embarrassment. The four novel omni-bus I read these novels in is daunting to some at over 4 inches thick, but each novel is easily read, and I spent probably less than 24 hours in total making my way through it.
856 pages long.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower - C. S. Forester

 Well for my 50th post I have the first chronological novel in the Hornblower series. I didn't want to start this series until I had read all the Bond novels, but since someone else has borrowed the next few novels I need I thought I'd take a look at this very famous character. I have been wanting to read Hornblower for years especially after reading that Winston Churchill himself was a huge fan.

 Horatio Hornblower is a very famous character, but there is a problem with this novel as it isn't exactly the first novel Forester wrote. In fact it is the sixth as he wrote The Happy Return first in 1938, and then 6 subsequent novels. The novels proved so popular that Forester then wrote Mr. Midship Hornblower which saw the start of Hornblower's career as a sick 17 year old in 1948. The problem with this novel is that even though it is chronological it isn't a novel per se. It is in fact 10 short stories that are not inter-connected in anyway. I found this frustrating as I thought that it was the first novel in a series when in fact it technically isn't. Possible in hindsight it is better to read the series in the order Forester wrote them.

 Bernard Cornwell done the same thing with his Sharpe's novels. Cornwell gained the inspiration for Richard Sharpe from Forester's Hornblower, and even after one Hornblower book there is very little difference between the two series in my opinion. Cornwell starts Sharpe off in Sharpe's Rifles and finished with Sharpe's Devil. Then, like Forester, wrote Sharpe's Tiger which went into Sharpe's pre-Spain career in India. If you have read the Sharpe's novels chronologically you'll find a certain amount of dis-jointedness due this order. I get the feeling that the Hornblower novels may suffer from the same thing.

 To be honest, once I realised this was a novel out of its actual chronological order of publication I found it difficult to read, and didn't enjoy it as I might have otherwise done. In hindsight if I knew then what I do now
I would have read the first published novel and the others in that order. For me reading this as a chronological order novel is a waste of time and probably only Hornblower purists and aficianados will enjoy it.

 The background to the Hornblower novels is interesting because Forester initially was writing a script for a pirate movie in Hollywood. But Errol Flynn's Captain Blood came out before he finished his script, and with too many parallels between Flynn's movie and his script he shelved it. But he then adapted it to what became the Hornblower novels. He wrote most of the novels in America after the War in California and their influence was even felt in Star Trek which was initially pitched as 'Hornblower in space'. Certainly they are enduringly popular, and have influenced any number of imitators since. As a character his popularity and fame is only surpassed by that of  Sherlock Holmes. Bernard Cornwell even states the series is the greatest military history fiction ever written. I can't comment on that until I have read the other novels!

 Mr. Midship Hornblower for me was a disappointment, only because it isn't a novel being 10 short stories in novelised form. I think if you intend to read this series you are better off reading them in the order they were written, and not in the subsequent chronological order. Certainly influential but overall a bit simplistically written. If you have read Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's novels then in all intents and purposes I feel that Forester's Hornblower novels are very much in the same category quality wise.

 The influence of Hornblower cannot be stressed enough and the novels have been adapted to film and television. Click here for more about this character and his legacy:

The Auschwitz Violin - Maria Angels Anglada

  'Anglada writes with elegance and subtlety, the brevity of the story only adding to its emotional power'.

John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

 At only 109 pages this is an extremely short novel, in fact it is more a novella than novel. I ploughed through it in less than 2 1/2 hours last night and still had time enough to read 140 pages of a Steve McQueen biography I then started. So what is there to say on something so short?

 Well first of all like How Many Miles to Babylon? it isn't easy! This novella is about a violin maker ( called a 'luthier' ), in on of the sub-camps that made up Auschwitz. The camp commandant finds out he is a violin maker and forces him to make a violin as he collects musical instruments. The novel focuses on protagonist Daniel making the violin under the threat of beatings, constant hunger and other deprivations. Through the camp's grapevine he discovers the commandant and the camp's sadistic doctor have made a bet as to whether Daniel can complete the violin within a set time. Daniel never discovers the time frame but he delivers up the violin and survives the war. 

 In essence the novel is about the mental struggle of life in a concentration camp, as much of the graphic nature is absent in lieu of the mental anguish of living under such conditions. Life is described through Daniel as an individual and his observations speak for the millions of victims.

 I'm constantly amazed at so much can be said with the use of so little words. This novella doesn't go into graphic details of life in the camps but it provides enough because most readers will already know something of the Holocaust. So the brevity of the deprivations means Anglada could concentrate more on Daniel's making of the violin. But it goes deeper than that as she wonderfully describes Daniel's workmanship. In making the violin Daniel is able to mentally escape for a time each day the horrors surrounding him. As he is under the commandants orders he is pretty much left alone from the guards. He certainly isn't immune from starvation and illness as he doesn't get any special treatment either.

 This isn't a particularly original novella or premise as such. There are many fictional works on Holocaust victims finding beauty amongst the horror, but Anglada has written a work of such crystalline simplicity and humanity it was hard to ignore. It is the simple premise that among the greatest crime against humanity ever committed people could still find beauty, passion, humanity, and life from everything good about mankind. Daniels' making of the violin is sandwiched in between a short narrative on how the violin survived the war, and how the man who played it to the commandant was found in Sweden and reunited with it through Daniel's daughter.

 In short Anglada has written the Holocaust and condensed it into 109 pages. She has concisely touched on all its salient details and inter-woved it into a then and now narrative. She has also opened each chapter with a real document pertaining to the Holocaust. I think anyone who has a passing or more serious knowledge of the events will recognise the brevity of Anglada's delivery, and marvel at how she could so concisely condense such vast events into only 109 pages. It is all there from survivor guilt, life in the camps, the will to live, the wish to die, the horror, starvation, disease, beatings, inhumanity, and in amongst it all the humanity shown by a very few at great risk to themselves. Anglada at one stage introduces men called Schindler and Bernadotte into her text as reminders of the good even within all the evil.

 Certainly not the best Holocaust novel I have read, but its brevity is staggering as Anglada has covered so many aspects of the events in such a small novella. It is a fine piece of writing, and whilst not totally original in premise it is still worth reading, not only for the subject matter, but as a quiet look at abbreviated writing and the skill involved in it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Storm Force From Navarone - Sam Llewellyn

 Sam Llewellyn was granted authorisation in the 1990's to use Alastair MacLean's Navarone novels, and their characters, in novels of his own. I don't know anymore than that suffice to say he wrote two novels about Mallory and his Navarone team. This novel was written in 1996 and implausibly picks up immediately at the end of Force 10 From Navarone.

 In this implausibility Llewellyn is following on from MacLean who followed The Guns of Navarone with Force 10. This novels first chapter begins with Force 10's very last sentence! I'm not a fan of novels being picked up and continued on with a different author, ( the worst one being Scarlett, an authorised sequel to Gone With the Wind...rubbish!! ). I find the author who attempts it usually fails to capture the original author's feel and interpretations. In Storm Force the immediate thing I picked up on was that while Llewellyn wrote very similarly to Maclean there was indefinable difference. It was noticeable in the first two chapters or so but once I found Llewellyn's voice I didn't see this difference anymore. The essence of the novel is very much MacLean and in that regard Llewellyn is right on the money.

 Both MacLean's Navarone novels are very implausible and stretch things very imaginatively. Normally this distortion of history would bug me but I put it aside somewhat as he is a fine writer of adventure driven fiction. Of course the Navarone novels came to epitomise the mission impossible genre. Storm Force From Navarone is no exception and if anything Llewellyn ups the stakes in very Maclean type fashion. I started this novel last night and read 180 pages of its 267 before turning off the light. I finished it this evening just before dinner, so it is like MacLean in being a very light, easy read.

 The whole premise of this novel is pure historical nonsense! Mallory's team is to be parachuted into Southern France to find three 'Werwolf' U-boats, each capable of carrying 100 torpedoes and travelling under water at up to 40 knots!!!! Absolute fabrication and total historical nonsense! They are a danger to the Normandy landings and Mallory's team has to destroy them before they wreak havoc on the invasion fleet. Of course what follows is classic high adventure with the many highs and lows of a Maclean novel. The team surmount impossible odds in their efforts to first find the u-boats, which they then destroy with grenades. They even have MacLean's ambiguous traitor in their mix to muddy the waters.

 I've read a few reviews on this novel around the web and most of them are highly uncomplimentary. I didn't think it that bad! Once I settled into Llewellyn's writing style the novel had a very 'Maclean' feel to it Llewellyn must be commended for achieving that at least, after all Alastair Maclean is a hard act to follow. Overall I enjoyed this novel even though it pushed implausibility to the limit. But this implausible high adventure type novel is what MacLean excelled at and Sam Llewellyn has followed in his footsteps well. MacLean purists may grumble at Llewellyn but I don't think he has done a bad job and certainly hasn't demeaned MacLean in any way. It would be interesting to know what MacLean himself thought of this homage to his Navarone novels doesn't it?!

 Utter historical nonsense, but the Navarone novels were written as mission impossibles so the missions had to implausible to make them exciting. I liked this novel and think it is a fine follow on to Alastair MacLean's two Navarone novels. For me the final test is that if it were rubbish I wouldn't have been able to read it let alone finish it! Not MacLean, but not far off. Sam Llewellyn can certainly say he had a fine teacher!!

 Amazon has this with 3 out of 5 stars from 3 reviews. In all honesty I think this is fair because whilst competently written the plausibility is a little too much to take too seriously.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Many Miles To Babylon? - Jennifer Johnston

Cover from the first edition.
 'A short, brilliant masterpiece'.

 Roddy Doyle.

'A truly heartbreaking story that stays in your mind for ever'.

Maeve Binchy.

 'As fresh and as moving as ever it was, this remarkable novel is still a delight, undiminished by the passage of time.'

William Trevor.

 How Many Miles to Babylon is a 1974 novel by Irish author Jennifer Johnston. She is now into her 80's and has had a long and distinguished writing career. And I know absolutely nothing more about her than that! I will say this now after some careful thought I honestly can't remember if I've read a novel by an Irish writer before. I quite possibly have but it was probably with unawareness of the nationality. Suffice to say I haven't yet delved into Ulysses but intend to one day!

 Babylon is an extraordinary novel because it is only 156 pages long. If anything it is more a novella, or very short novel than a novel per se. I read the whole thing last night starting at 10pm and finishing just shy of 1.00am. When I was younger I never particularly enjoyed this concise type of writing, but as I've gotten older the skill of this writing has really impressed itself on me and I find myself actively seeking out novels of this type. Johnston in her 156 pages has packed so much in it is hard to believe it is so short.

 So what is it about? In essence it is about the class system of the early 20th century, both in civilian society, and the military. It is a very shrewd look at the subject and Johnston exposes it for the snobby despicable way of thinking it was. The novel starts with narrator Alec in a military prison awaiting execution for an unknown crime. He quickly moves onto how he grew up and the events that led to his incarceration. He grew up in Moycullen, Ireland with parents who have a difficult ,loveless marriage. Alec's mother is a snob and a believer in 'class'. His father is a somewhat defeated man because of his wife's views. It is really interesting when a male or female writer write from the point of view of another sex. Johnston may be a female but her Alec, and his voice, is unmistakably masculine. Again her literary and intellectual skills are very apparent.

 The parents relationship is so different from so many loveless marriages because they don't yell and argue as expected, but quietly snipe at each other. Johnston describes it perfectly and the reader cannot help but feel pity for Alec and quiet disgust towards his mother. His father has with drawn into himself and is something of a non-entity ( Alec's mother is not above telling him he is like his father! ). The only common ground the two have is Alec and they constantly battle each other over his course in life. When the First world War breaks out Alec's mother forces him to enlist, not out of patriotism, but as away to hurt her husband who doesn't want Alec to get involved in a 'foolish war'. This indifference to Alec's fate sums up his mother who is totally self absorbed.

 Her 'class' view of the world interferes with a friendship Alec develops with a local peasant boy Jeremy. They share a common love of horses but Alec's mother dis-approves and bans Alec from mixing with Jeremy. They don't see each other for several years and meet again just as both are about to enlist. The friendship re-ignites and yet Alec knows if they serve together he will be an officer due to his background. He doesn't want to be one but can't escape it. In Dublin he meets his commanding officer Major Glendinning who is something of a class tyrant who despises the Irish lower class like Alec's mother.

 In France Alec and Jeremy face difficult odds in being friends. Glendinning finds out and tries to put a stop to it saying it is unbecoming of an officer to mix with the men. The pair find even in the army the class system prevails albeit in a different form. Glendinning is an unpleasant character who has lost sight of all reason and I felt nothing but loathing towards him. The trench life isn't the best written descriptive wise and is on a par with Robert Grave's Goodbye to all That, a disappointing memoir in my opinion even though very well known. Overall the trench scenes are quite brief as the struggles Alec and Jeremy face are the real focus and the war is just another backdrop as the bogs of Ireland were earlier.

 The novel ends with Jeremy going AWOL in an attempt to find his father who has disappeared in the trenches. He returns and is immediately arrested and sentenced to death for desertion. Alec is ordered by Glendinning to conduct Jeremy's execution. It is Glendinning's class driven sadistic payback for Alec's friendship with Jeremy. The novel ends with Alec shooting Jeremy in his cell instead of going through with the execution. The tragic end reveals why Alec is awaiting execution from the start of the novel.

 This is a fantastic novel. Tragic and sad yes, but that is the point. The premise of friendships/relationships that transcend the class system isn't new, but Johnston takes it one step further by applying it to the army as well. Irish nationalism is an obvious under tone ( she is Irish so it is understandable! ), as she has Jeremy enlisting so he can learn how to use weapons and tactics properly. He realises untrained Irish boys would stand no chance against British soldiers when the time came to fight. His politics are discovered and his execution is as much to do with this as his 'desertion'. He was a political nuisance and executing him was a way to get rid of him tidily.

Cover from the edition I read.
 I'm in awe how Johnston could create characters with real depth in such few words. Alec, his mother, father, Jeremy, and Glendinning, are all perfectly realised and the reader could see them as real people. It is an incredible piece of skillful writing and I urge you to read this novel as it is literature at its finest with a damning look at the class system of the early 20th Century. Superb brilliant, tragic, sad, powerful. A novel that you will never forget. Its multiple layers are staggering from such a concise novel, and any literature lover will enjoy every aspect of this amazing novel.

 Highly recommended to all. A modern masterpiece.

 Amazon has this with 4 out of 5 stars from 9 reviews. It was also adapted to television in 1982 and starred Daniel-Day Lewis as Alec and Christopher Fairbank as Jeremy.

Force 10 From Navarone - Alastair MacLean

 Force 10 From Navarone is the only sequel Alastair MacLean wrote in his long and distinguished writing career. He wrote it due to the success of the film adaption of The Guns of Navarone and yet he wrote this novel eight years after the movie was released. For me after I read this last night I was very surprised by the fact I remembered more from this novel than from its predecessor.

 I'm not sure why as I read this, like Navarone, thirty years. But when I think back I re-call enjoying this novel more even then. I actually still do! Opinions differ as to whether Force 10 is a worthy successor to Navarone but for me I think it is. If anything by this stage MacLean had been writing for over ten years and I think his experience and confidence is apparent in this novel. Why? Because MacLean was a master of intrigue and deviousness, and Force 10 sees him at his very best with double cross followed by triple cross!

 The novel follows immediately on from Navarone, in fact the very same night! Why I think this is the better novel is that MacLean deceives the reader with Mallory and his teams mission into Yugoslavia. His plot twists and turns are devious and very cunning but the masterful thing is that they are only half of the story. Once the cover of the initial 'supposed' mission is exposed by Maclean the real one begins, and the novel turns from a craftily written thriller, where nothing is what it seemed, into an action novel extraordinaire!

 The remarkable thing about this novel is its brevity. It is only 200 pages long and I read it in six hours or so reading time. It is amazing and a true testament to MacLean's writing skills that so much is packed into such a relatively short novel. The whole thing bristles with pace and suspense, not to mention a great non-stop action sequence, which takes up the last third of the novel.

 I think most of the criticism of this novel is somewhat unwarranted because a poor novel does not spend five months on the New York Times Best Seller List! Unfortunately the film adaptation wasn't as well received! In fact it failed to re-coup its budget. It was made in 1978 and was directed by Guy Hamilton who had made several James Bond films previously. None of the original stars returned as they would have been too old for the roles, but still it had a stellar cast with Robert Shaw, a young Harrison Ford, Edward fox, Barbara Bach, and Richard Kiel, ( more famous as 'Jaws' from the Bond movies).

 The movie adaptation had very little in common with the novel. It was a flop and I can't even remember if I have seen it! I probably have but if it was so poor it may explain why I can't picture it in my mind. Interestingly MacLean chose to follow on the start of this novel from how the film  adaptation ended and not that of the Navarone novel. He includes several characters in this novel who were from the film and not the novel, like Maria, who is about to marry Andrea. He probably done it so he could sell the novel's film rights, ( after all writing was his career and he had to make a living doing it). It is just a shame that the Navarone film wasn't followed up by a worthy successor.

The military aspect of the novel is complete fabrication and total historical nonsense! But this is fiction and MacLean has taken  the actual Battle of Neretva and embellished it a bit. I won't go into the inaccuracies as they are pointless. MacLean though was always at pains in his novels to clearly state his intentional inaccuracies in the pursuit of an exciting fictional narrative. More modern readers will recognise though the distrust of Yugoslavian politics from the 1990's war. The Chetniks and their collaboration with the Germans was real and Maclean uses that in the novel.

 Certainly a fine novel and an example of Alastair MacLean at his best. I think this is a better novel than The Guns of Navarone and highlights Maclean's fantastic use of cunning twists and turns. He packs so much into his novels which is a surprise when it is considered how short they are. Force 10 From Navarone is almost like two novels in one as Maclean leads the reader, and his characters, on a cleverly disguised red herring, which culminates in a very exciting war novel.

 A very good Alastair MacLean novel which shows him at his very best. Recommended.

 Click here for a look at the actual Battle of Neretva which is the backdrop to the novel:

 I must admit to having read very little on the Yugoslav Partisans and their war against the Germans. A lot of that has to do with unavailability of reading material. I'm not sure that much has been printed in English either which isn't a help. But if you wish to read a bit on this subject then Fitzroy Maclean's famous book, Eastern Approaches, is a good starting point as he goes into the internecine politics of the various Yugoslav groups and the communist distrust rampant against the outside world. Amongst that he does state they did fight Germans when not squabbling amongst themselves.

 New Zealander Lindsey Rodgers was a surgeon and he went into Yugoslavia to pass on surgical techniques to partisan doctors. He wrote of his experiences in Guerrilla Surgeon. It is a very common book here in NZ but may be less common worldwide. If you can find a copy  it makes for harrowing reading, and like MacLean he shows the communist distrust of outsiders and also the brutal war the Yugoslavs were engaged in against the Germans.

 Also one of the German units involved in the anti-partisan duties was the 7th SS Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen". It was made of of 'Volks Deutsch', mainly from south-eastern Europe. As a division it never really shaped up even after numerous battles with the partisans due to its cosmopolitan make-up. It is written by Otto Kumm ( who has written other works on the various SS divisions ), but being a divisional history is rather dry.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Pirates! An Adventure With Whaling - Gideon Defoe

'Silly, charming, unique, and hilarious all at once'.

From the cover of, The Pirates! In an adventure with communists.

  How the hell can I review a novel that is only 6 1/2 inches high and 147 pages long?! And not only that but I also read the following novel immediately after it last night. I suppose that shows the ease of which these Pirates novels can be read because I did read them consecutively finishing the second one at 2.30 this morning.

 I'm not in the mood for anything too heavy at the moment and a novel at 147 pages suits me perfectly. I brought them home from the library because I liked the covers and the fact they are comedies. For me comedy as literature has somewhat passed me by as I find it relates better to cinema than to the written word. Horror is very much the same for me even though I do dabble from time to time. Somehow though as i flicked through this the other day I had a feeling I wouldn't be disappointed...and I wasn't!

 I have been unable to find out much about this Pirates series unfortunately. In the back of the novel there is a list of over 100 titles, and yet I'm not sure if Gideoen Defoe wrote them all. It is possible as they are very concise novels and he could churn out 100 novels in a short time span. I will have to do some real digging as I would like to read many more of these very funny short novels.

 In short they are about a group of inept, bumbling, not very scary pirates, who have all sorts of 'adventures'. None of them have any names with the captain being called Pirate Captain, and two of his crew referred to as 'Scarf' and 'Red'. The others are completely anonymous. If you are old enough you may remember The Goon Show of which this is the closet comparison I can give. ( If you don't don't know who the Goons were they were Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe ). The show was played on the radio and was bloody hilarious! It was full of all sorts of absurd, quirky characters and situations. Some of the shows were even published and I remember a few copies at home as a boy.

 The Pirates feels as if the Goon Show is its inspiration. Even a bit of Roald Dahl at his quirkiest pokes it head out. These novels are like the Goon show scripts as they are also full of silly humorous illustrations. This novel is about whales and whaling and every imaginable send up is explored. For instance Moby Dick is unmercifully sent up and Captain Ahab is continuously bumped into by our pirate crew. Pirate Captain even manages to cleve in half with his cutlass Starbuck!!

 Interestingly Defoe intersperses his narrative in many interesting factual footnotes pertaining to maritime matters etc. It is an interesting juxtaposition of silliness mixed with very real, yet now somewhat obscure facts. For instance how a 'cocked hat' came about, and the expression, 'cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey' is explained. You'll have to read the novel as I'm not going to tell you!!

 The situations are absurd, deeply funny, and yet with a cutting yet subtle cynicism to the humour. This is like Pirates of the Caribbean but much more farcical. Mix that franchise with The Goon Show and you get the idea of what to expect. It is great stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed this short little novel. I did actually laugh out loud a number of times, and if anything these novels are for the well read as there are numerous nods and winks to some quite obscure facts or events scattered throughout. They certainly aren't run of the mill and quite intelligently written.

 I really recommend these novels. If you like or want something quirky and deeply funny then these are for you. They are genuinely funny with a very dry sense of humour that may not be for all but they suit my type of humour perfectly. Read, enjoy,  laugh, and also be intrigued by Gideon Defoe's numerous and extremely interesting footnotes.

 Believe me you won't forget these novels in a hurry! Irreverent and very, very politically in-correct!!!!

Amazon has this with 5 out of 5 stars and for me that says it all!

The Pirates! In an adventure with communists.

 As stated I read this novel immediately after Whaling. It is slightly longer at 160 pages but it is just as light and breezy, not to mention as hilarious! Obviously Pirate Captain and his crew have an adventure with Communists, and which better commies to have one with than Karl Marx and Max Engels!!

 The action starts in England and then moves to Paris as the pirates attempt to help Marx and Engels create a better image for communism. Needless to say all sorts of commie jokes abound! The text is again filled with quirky and silly illustrations pertaining to the plot, and Gideon again makes prodigious use of his interesting footnotes. The Pirates go through the Louvre, Madame Tussuad's Wax Works, and go to a Can Can dance where they are disappointed the dances are wearing knickers!! The novel moves on to Pirate Captain meeting composer Wagner and then finishing with a meeting, and fight, with Nietzsche, who is spouting out about the wonders of fascism!

 Another quirky silly and funny novel!! Well worth a read if you won't something unique and with a very dry humour to it. Highly recommended, and again you will love the tongue in cheek irreverence and political in-correctness!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Goldfinger - Ian Fleming

Cover from the first edition.
'Pussy, get back in your basket'.

Bond to Pussy Galore.

  I went to my library two days ago to borrow the next Bond novels, 8 and 9,  to find those exact two were gone!! I was miffed to say the least because for weeks on end no-one had touched any of them, and yet as soon as I start reading them someone else jumps in. How rude and inconsiderate...and they aren't even borrowing them in order of publication!! Haha them's the breaks though huh?!

 Goldfinger is the longest of the Bond novels at 347 pages. I couldn't quite read it in one night but came damn close. It was published in 1959 and adapted into a movie in 1964. I love the movie adaptation and believe only From Russia With Love better than it in all the Bond movies. Like the preceding novels the movie does deviate from the novel somewhat but somehow the movie is the superior of the two mediums to my mind.

 I liked the novel but the movie does what very few manage in that it makes it better. This is the third strongest novel of the seven I have read so far but has its moments of datedness. I find when the dated moments came along the pace of the novel slowed somewhat. Goldfinger suffers from going from great engaging moments to ones that feel flat, hence the novel has a somewhat jerky feel to it. Like the movie it starts with Bond busting Auric Goldfinger cheating at cards. It then moves quickly along to him and Bond having a three chapter long game of golf! Suffice to say the movie abbreviates this game but Bond wins by playing Goldfinger at his own game, namely cheating.

 From this scene until the action hits the U.S the novel is completely different from the movie. After the game Bond is invited to Goldfinger's nearby residence for dinner. Here he meets Oddjob for the first time and is shown his Karate skills as he chops in half a staircase's six inch banister, and then kicks out a fireplace's mantle piece. Then the infamous hat comes off, and like the movie, a nearby statue decapitated.

 This is all wonderful reading but from here the novel goes off the boil somewhat as Bond pursues Goldfinger through France into Switzerland. He is now using the car he is famous for from the movies, the Aston Martin DB 3, ( his previous car was his privately owned  Bentley which was destroyed in Moonraker ). In short Bond is caught along with Tilly Masterton, the sister of the girl Goldfinger famously murders with gold paint. She wants to kill Goldfinger but Bond stops her as he wants to put him behind bars.

 Bond is put on a saw bench and expected to die. In the movie of course it is a laser beam and Connery utters the famous line, ' Do you expect me to talk', with Goldfinger replying, ' No Mister Bond I expect you to die!'. In the novel Bond blacks out and wakens in the U.S with Goldfinger then employing him and Tilly under duress in his attempt to rob Fort Knox. Again the movie deviates from the novel because Goldfinger intends to irradiate the golf in the fort and not steal it. Also the movie sees Goldfinger spray nerve gas on the town's occupants, whereas in the novel they are apparently poisoned through the town's water supply.

 The ending is similar except that Oddjob is killed after Bond smashes a window on the aircraft with a knife which sees Oddjob sucked out. He then strangles Goldfinger. The character of Pussy Galore is actually quite minor in the novel and the movie expands on her much more. Funnily enough the Bond girls have little part in the whole novel compared to its predecessors. Tilly Masterton's sister Bond shags on a train in a 24 hour session, and then she disappears from the novel. Bond doesn't get into Tilly's knickers and she is killed by Oddjob's hat.  Pussy Galore he gets to shag right at the very end. But overall the women are less apparent in this novel as Goldfinger is the main player.

 Like some of the other novels Fleming is back on form with some of his judgements. He calls Orleans in France a 'priest and myth ridden town without charm or gaiety'. He then later has a dig at 'female emancipation' saying through Bond ( how convenient! ), that it is the cause of the feminising of men who are becoming 'pansies' and 'sexual misfits'!!! How dated is that thinking? Not only was Fleming sexist he was anti-homosexual. And in many respects I can't believe these thoughts of his were published in the somewhat conservative 1950's. Sure attitudes were different, but one feels they were said behind closed doors and not outside of 'decent' society'.

 Overall Goldfinger is for me the third best novel of the seven I have read. The game of golf was too long at three chapters especially since I know nothing of the game, and Flemings descriptions went over my head. It has a jerkiness due to certain parts having a dated feel, but I was surprised in that for the first time Fleming started to use some bigger words in his narrative. I think it is a good plot which the movie just made better. But the most obvious thing was the Bond girls taking an almost back seat. Sure Tilly Masterton is in almost two thirds of the novel but Bond doesn't shag her and Pussy Galore is a very much secondary character compared to her movie counter-part, ( even her lesbian 'crew' are left out of the novel). And under the surface the reader can't escape Fleming's dis-tasteful ,dated sexual judgements.

 The movie is better because it has taken a strong novel and expanded on its strengths. Still worth reading but not in the same league as From Russia With Love, or the impressive Dr. No.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Night Of The living Trekkies - Kevin David Anderson & Sam Stall

 They thought space was the final frontier - they were wrong.

 I love looking through the fiction section of my local library. Its always 'oooo I want to read that', or 'I will get there one day'. But it is always interesting to see what I come home with. When it comes to fiction I read a broader range of genres than I do non-fiction wise. But it can also be frustrating as its the old proverb, so many books not enough time!!

 I pulled this one out on a whim and instantly put it under my arm once I read Star Trek, sci-fi, and zombies on the back cover. I love zombie movies and after I am Legend this really appealed. When I think back over the years I've never actually read a zombie novel so I was keen to see how the genre would relate to the written word.

 First off this is written by a couple of self confessed sci-fi geeks/nerds!! The writing style is competent and readable but be aware it is at about the level of the best written blogs we  read. In saying that it is still reasonably written and an unchallenging read. In essence it is two amateurs having a go at writing a novel about their hobby. Good on them and it is a good entertaining attempt.

 The premise revolves around an ex-solider who has left the army and now works in a Houston, Texas hotel. It is host to a Star Trek convention and slowly the main protagonist realises that something is terribly wrong. The novel starts with the cliqued outbreak in a secret military base which sets the tone for the whole novel. It is chock full of cliques on everything sci-fi from Star Trek to Star Wars to 28 Days Later to Wolverine!! The title should be a give away as the 'Trekkies' are quickly zombified except for a small handful of survivors who are dwindled away to three by the end of the novel.

 As stated it is cliqued but it is humorous in its delivery. The novel really is a parody and is funny without being laugh out loud. I loved it and just got into the whole geek/nerdiness of it. These two authors have great motivation in writing about their hobby and have written quite a unique original novel in mixing sci-fi elements of a Star Trek convention with that of horror with zombies. I believe it has been made into a low budget movie at same stage. It reads almost like a screenplay and would have adapted to a movie relatively easily.

 Surprisingly there is very little real gore or even swearing. Shit is used once and that is the only swear word in the whole novel! The gore is there but not in over dose quantities and if anything it works better for it because it is the sci-fi Star Trek buzz that is more what the novel is about. Right throughout there are plenty of in house Star Trek jokes and heaps upon heaps of Star Trek facts and figures being hurled about. It is great stuff and since it involves zombies there are several references to zombie movies as well.

 In short an original novel that pokes quiet tongue in cheek fun at the sci-fi community. I love the premise of a sci-fi convention being over run by zombies! I hope the two authors make a bit of cash from this as it is a fun look into the world of the geek/nerd sci-fi aficionado!! It is competently written without being professional in nature and easily read in about 4 hours.  Amazon has this with 4 1/2 stars out of 5 from 78 reviews. Have fun because that is what it is all about, and it will appeal to both sci-fi and zombie lovers!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Guns Of Navarone - Alastair MacLean

 I watched the movie adaptation of this novel several nights ago for the first time in thirty odd years. It would have to be about as long as that since I last read the novel as well. I wanted to read the novel first before watching the movie but alas wasn't able to. I would have preferred to have done so because with any movie adaptation from a novel there are always changes and fiddling, or if not complete ridiculing of the original source, ( read and then watch I am Legend as a good example ).

 I read the novel over two nights and fortunately I found the movie a fairly faithful adaptation even though it has added in extra scenes for dramatic effect. The movie was critically acclaimed in 1961 and even though extremely dated now with its special effects still a worthy watch. It was written in 1957 and was MacLean's second novel after his outstanding debut with HMS Ulysses, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in naval warfare. For me it is one of the greatest naval novels ever written, ( but not quite in the league of The Boat, reviewed here several months back ).

 Funnily enough this novel was written at the same time as Ian Fleming was writing his James Bond novels. And yet whereas Fleming's novels have clearly dated, MacLean's novel has stood the test of time much better. MacLean was a far superior author than Fleming as is seen by his use of quite a number of unusual, even obscure, words in the narrative. But he has still written a novel that is accessible to all which hasn't alienated any reader of better or lesser accomplishments. As novels they are easy reading but with enough genuine literature usage to satisfy a more discerning reader.

 Of course Maclean went on to a stellar writing career and is one of the 20th Centuries greatest novelists. He died in 1988 but I remember his novels well and have read many of them. It is unfortunate that his novels seem to be out of print as they are still worth while reads and it is a shame a more modern, younger generation don't know who Alastair Maclean was. The Guns of Navarone is the first of his novels I have read since Puppet on a Chain in the early 1990's, which shows how his books have disappeared somewhat. Even my local library only has this novel of his albeit in an omnibus form with Force 10 From Navarone.

 Actually Force 10 From Navarone was the only sequel to a novel MacLean wrote, which was due to the success of the film. It also was adapted to film but it didn't have any of the original cast and flopped. This novel was also adapted to radio in 1997 into a two hour radio programme. Not bad for a book that was 40 years old at the time and I think it shows the enduring fame of the novel.

 I won't go into the differences in the film and book suffice to say the movie has only one real major change outside of adding parts not in the novel. The traitor in the book is a Navaronian whereas in the movie it is female Navaronian. The book has no female characters what so ever but the movie did so as to avoid alienating female viewers. Bums on seats meant such changes from the book for necessities sake. But really that is the only startling change. This traitor is one of McLean's trademarks which he used to great effect in Where Eagles Dare which is a very complex novel with many cunning twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. The film adaptation is excellent and has stood the test of time better than Navarone's has.

 The traitor in this novel wasn't easy to spot and even though I knew there was one. When he was revealed I was miles from the mark and nodded my head in acknowledgement of McLean's deviousness! The only part of the whole novel I actually remembered reading all those years ago was the Stuka attack, everything else was completely forgotten. Possibly the funniest thing about the whole novel is that the destruction of the guns happens in only the last few paragraphs!!! The movie stretches out the wiring of the explosives and the ensuing destruction, but the in the novel that scene is only a few pages long. Most of the novel is how the saboteurs got onto Navarone and then to the fortress. But overall the novel moves along at a brisk pace and I never felt impatient to get to the gun's destruction.

 The novel is also noticeably devoid of swearing! Bastard is the strongest word and even the graphicness of the violence is scaled down by today's standards. Luckily it avoids the feeling of quaintness as MacLean was a fine writer and this novel  feels like it could have been written in the last decade or so. I really enjoyed this novel and without question, for me personally, it is one of the novels from boyhood that fostered my life long interest in military history. The novel is pure historical nonsense but MacLean states so at the start so any inaccuracies can be overlooked and the novel enjoyed as piece of adventure and escapism. The impact of this novel can't be overlooked and Sam Llewellyn has written two more Navarone novels carrying on the tradition MacLean started.

 Still a fine novel and now 64 years old! For me a nostalgic read which has stood the test of time far better than its film adaptation. Alastair MacLean was a fine novelist and all his works are worth reading if you get the opportunity to do so.

Click here for my review on the film:

And click here for my review on Where Eagles Dare: