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.