Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Puppet on a Chain -- Alistair MacLean

Every now and then I like to re-read something by Alistair MacLean, even if it's not one of his best, which this one isn't. It was published in 1969, and by that time, at least for my tastes, MacLean was past his prime. I remember reading a scene in Force Ten from Navarone (1968) and thinking that MacLean was writing strictly for the movies and even putting in scenes that he thought would work well in the screenplay. I think pretty much the same thing about several of the scenes in Puppet on a Chain.

This is a drug war book. Major Paul Sherman, of Interpol, and his two beautiful assistants (who really have next to nothing to do with the plot) are in Amsterdam to put a stop to the drug traffic. Like all of MacLean's first-person narrators, Sherman is supposed to be highly competent, but he makes all kinds of blunders, which he tells us about as he makes them and which he also tells us will lead to terrible consequences. That's what happens, all right. But whereas that kind of thing worked for me in his earlier books, it just doesn't quite come off in this one. Or maybe I'm just cranky.

There's lots of derring-do and plenty of action, but it all seems to me to lack the drive of the earlier books. Again, maybe it's just me. But I felt the same way nearly 40 years ago. I thought maybe I'd feel differently this time, or I hoped I would, but I didn't. If this had been the first MacLean book I'd ever read, I might have loved it. As it is, I'd say it's middling, but not in the same league with things like The Black Shrike or The Golden Rendezvous or a number of others.


Elizabeth Foxwell said...

_Ice Station Zebra_ (1963) is my favorite.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Back when I read a LOT of MacLean (and up to 20 times, some of those titles), I divided his output into three disinct periods.

I always grouped Puppet with Circus and Caravan, books taking place in somewhat unique settings but without his earlier bite.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Amsterdam stuff in that one and I think Stephen's analysis is right.

It's no Guns of Navarone but it's worth reading.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I agree with Stephen and Jeff. Also, I think Ice Station Zebra is one of the great ones, Beth.

James Reasoner said...

I read this one when it was brand-new and had the same reaction as you, Bill. I had to ask myself if this was the same author who wrote FEAR IS THE KEY (my favorite MacLean novel), ICE STATION ZEBRA, and even WHERE EAGLES DARE, which is still a good book although he'd started to go downhill slightly by then.

A good later MacLean novel is SAN ANDREAS, which almost recaptures the early magic.

Unknown said...

Fear is the Key is another favorite of mine. Great stuff.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

FEAR IS THE KEY is one of my favorites. Blame it on Bill, but last night I stayed up too late with GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS.

His humor is still spot on.

Alistair is one of my great influences.

Unknown said...

I'm always glad to take the blame for something like that.