Sunday, January 08, 2006

South by Java Head -- Alistair MacLean

On the left there is a cover scan of the first paperback printing (1958) of Alistair MacLean's South by Java Head. When Walter Satterthwait mentioned to me the other day that he was re-reading it, I couldn't resist doing the same, so I went over to one of my shelves (you've seen some of my my shelves) and pulled it down. (Actually, I had to locate it behind the row of books stacked in front of it before I pulled it down.)

In the late '50s and for most of the 1960s, MacLean was one of my favorite writers. When it came to adventure, he couldn't be topped, and South by Java Head is a fine example of why. As usual, the good guys are a calm, courageous bunch. They face adversity without flinching, and, believe me, there's plenty of adversity to face. MacLean was a master of putting his characters into impossible situations, and then making things worse. And when they manage to escape, it's never to something better except for a moment. Then things go downhill again, and things are worse than before. Just when you think things couldn't possibly get any more difficult and dangerous, they do. Talk about one damned thing after another! MacLean can really pile it on. He does it all with a such zest and humor that you can't help but enjoy it. I think I might have to pull another MacLean book off that shelf for re-reading before very long.

Could MacLean find a publisher today? I'm not sure. Not long ago I read a review of Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran's 1984 Edgar-winning Grandmaster, which has recently been reprinted. The reviewer seemed to think the book was a relic of a distant time rather than being much of a thriller. Maybe people would think the same of MacLean. Not me, though.

8 comments:

  1. Glen Davis10:55 PM

    Clive Cussler keeps getting published, so I don't really see why Maclean wouldn't. I think my favorite is The Dusty Road To Death, but it changes every so often.

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  2. And MacLean seems also to be in print today.

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  3. I think I'd have to go with Ice Station Zebra as my favorite MacLean. Arctic setting, edge-of-the-seat suspense.

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  5. Beyond MacLean's prose style -- which you're right, wouldn't appeal to many editors these days -- his brevity would also work against him. All of MacLean's books aren't any longer than they need to be, and zoom along from incident to incident. In a marketplace where "fatter is better," a writer of the MacLean school had better learn to love a steady diet of ramen.

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  6. oldtimer768:11 AM

    I thoroughly enjoyed Alistair MacLean's writing and for many years The Guns of Navarone was "the best book I've ever read." Eventually it was replaced with The Bourne Identity but it's still high on my list.

    I just finished reading an autographed copy of your Red, White, and Blue Murder. Sheriff Rhodes may not be Jason Bourne, but I look forward to his adventures almost as much.

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  7. Michael E. Stamm3:56 PM

    I haven't read a MacLean title since the early/mid '70s--I think I finally lost interest with their decreasing energy, the last one I read probably being CARAVAN TO VACCARES. But I discovered his earlier stuff in the late '60s, starting with THE SECRET WAYS and HMS ULYSSES, and remember vividly just how powerful they were. The "Ian Stuart" SATAN BUG was another good 'un, as was NIGHT WITHOUT END. Guess I'll have to pull one of the half-dozen I still have on the shelf for a near-future re-read--thanks!

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  8. I've reviewed some of the ones you mention, and in fact just did THE SATAN BUG a week or so ago. Great stuff!

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