Monday, July 25, 2011

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.

1 comment:

  1. "Golden Gate" is a pretty decent MacLean thriller, but by this time, sadly, he had settled into formulaic plotting. To me, "Partisans" is unreadable, much like "Seawitch".

    His early works are over-the-top excellent. He was a natural writer and storyteller, but by the time the later novels were written, he was suffering from personal problems, hated writing, and refused to turn in anything but a first draft which he refused to edit in any way.