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.

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