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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Book Review: The Guns of Navarone by Alistair Maclean

Alistar Maclean
First published 1957
The Kindle Edition

Recently watching the Guns of Navarone on television,  I suddenly thought that I'd never read the book on which the quite excellent movie was based - with that thought came the realisation that I'd never read any Alistair Maclean books. Of course I knew of the author; he remains, even now several decades after his death, a household name and I've seen a few of the many films based on his work. But the urge to actually dip into the master thriller writer's work was intense, I figured that he had to be pretty damn special given his reputation and so I promptly bought the eBook edition of the Guns of Navarone - at £1.49 it was hardly going to break the bank.

So first for anyone that doesn't know here is the plot of this wartime adventure -  There are more than a thousand British soldiers trapped on a small island off the Aegean island of Navarone, and the Germans are sending a huge force to smash them.  The British Navy wants to pull them off, but the only route that can be taken goes right past–the guns of Navarone.  Unfortunately neither sea nor air attacks will work on the Navarone fortress due to its unique position, and a mass amphibious assault is too chancy and likely doomed to failure. But a small team of specialists, led by renowned mountain climber, Keith Mallory, might be able to scale the seemingly unclimable cliffs, get past the elite Alpenkorps troops, infiltrate
Various editions of the novel
the impenetrable fortress and blow up the invincible guns

Maclean's style took me a little while to get into - he was a very detailed writer and the book is paced a little slower than the modern thrillers I am used to reading. However once I'd gone a few pages I found myself sucked into the story, and the suspense kept me turning the pages. I also appreciated the fact that the German characters in the book are not presented as one dimensional bad guys, but rather with respect - they are for the most part just soldiers fighting for their country, just like our intrepid heroes themselves. There is one nasty German character, who engages in a little torture at a pivotal part in the book but he is an exception to the rule, and overall the books comes across with a very realistic feel. The rock climbing scenes are brilliantly well done - incredibly described and in this respect the author reminded me somewhat of Ian Fleming; he was another writer who could squeeze excitement out of scenes such as this. When reading the exploits of Mallory and his team as they scale the seemingly impossible cliffs, we can feel the wind in our hair, the ice cold rain washing down out faces and you get a real sense of the danger in which our characters find themselves. I even think I had an attack of vertigo at one or two points in the book.

The titular guns themselves almost take on a mythical status throughout the narrative - fitting that the book is set on a Greek island since the guns have the air of a Greek Myth - and it is surprising that their actual destruction is dealt with in a couple of pages, but the fun of the book is getting to this point and it really is a pulse pounding journey - very well told with a masterful grip of character. I'll certainly be exploring more of Maclean's work - it took me awhile to get here but this book leaves me well and truly a fan.

An exceptional thriller that deserves its lofty reputation.

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