Alistair MacLean’s War - How the Royal Navy Shaped his Bestsellers by Mark Simmons

Grownup_Rafbrat

ADC
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
A review by Dapperdunn
=====================================================================
=========================


'Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy. ' How can those words not send a shiver of delight down your spine?

Never having read any of MacLean’s books but having seen his most famous books on the big{small} screen, I was very much looking forward to reading this. It arrived and I opened it with a slight frisson of excitement. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the dust jacket doesn’t disappoint, MacLean in square rig looking steely eyed along with a sleek grey messenger of death and a merchant ship on fire, smoke billowing out into the darkening sky. On the reverse, a photo of HMS Diadem, the same class of ship as HMS Royalist the light cruiser that MacLean served on during the Second World War; the basis for his first novel HMS Ulysses. In addition, there is a forward by Lee Child. Yes, the Lee Child. He’s a MacLean fan {who knew} and had also written a foreword to a reissue of MacLean’s Fear is the Key.

1653755403830.jpeg



After the foreword, the author sets out the books he is going to cover and an explanation of how the book is laid out. There is a glossary of terms, then the main text of the book. Then the appendices. a brief synopsis of each of his books, two short stories and then the page notes {of which there are not too many}.

The book itself is laid out in chronological order, starting with his formative years, joining the Navy, and his time at sea. Then after the war until in the end, the book culminates in his death.

Each chapter details a particular time in MacLean’s life and as the author describes particular events, he quotes passages from a book illustrating where MacLean has drawn his inspiration from. It works, even if you’ve not read any of his books before. Although on the back of reading this book, I’m now halfway through HMS Ulysses and enjoying it very much. The book isn’t just about his war experience, his time after leaving the Andrew and his 2 marriages and his problems with alcohol are also covered in here. But always we’re returned to his books and where he drew his inspiration from.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alistair MacLean’s War and would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about his Naval service, but especially recommend it to fans of MacLean’s books.

The only fault I can find in the book is the author refers to Uckers as Royal Navy slang for the game of Ludo. Not just once, but twice. I can assure anyone unfamiliar with Uckers that it is most definitely NOT Ludo. It’s actually a grievous insult to call a matelot a ‘Ludo playing b*stard’. Notwithstanding that, an enjoyable read.

4.5 Stars

Dapper

Amazon product
 
HMS Ulysses...I've lost count the number of times I've read that book since I was a spotty faced 14 year old back in the very early 70s... Read all his books up until 'The Way to Dusty Death' which was a bit rubbish, but Ulysses was a grippingly emotional tale based on a lived experience in the extreme environment of the Arctic Convoys. What a book! He was a Leading Torpedo Operator and took part in the infamous Convoy PQ17 on the light cruiser HMS Royalist which also saw action against Tirpitz. Some cracking books were penned by him. I may give this one a thumb through...
 
I well remember my first introduction to Alastair MacLean's works was as a youngster c1960.
It was a daily serialisation on BBC Television read by the by then the well known actor, John Slater, It was only small chunks at a time (maybe 5 or 10 minutes) and actually reading from the book, no teleprompters in those days.
The book was Night Without End, a whodunnit based around survivors of a crash landing of a civil aircraft on the Greenland ice cap, and their sequential deaths while awaiting rescue.
It was a gripping tale and I followed each episode avidly and as soon as I could, I borrowed the hardback from our local library.
Then when the army began to give me a disposable income I'd buy his books as soon as they came out in paperback
It was good reading them in the early days (before the films) because you could create the characters from your imagination- and despite knowing 'whodidit' they were re-readable.
Some AMcL moments;
Still after all these years, recalling a couple of incidents in 'HMS Ulysses - the young sailor and the tanker and the officer and the tampions.
Reading 'South By Java Head' almost in situ on a troopship in the Singapore Straits returning to West Malaysia.
In Barracks, there was a mini library which had both Ice Station Zebra and a pretty definitive book about US nuclear submarines and a mate and I both came to the conclusion having borrowed both, the McLean had certainly done his homework regarding nuclear subs.

Later on, when trying to learn German, I found I could only read books in German if I had previously read them in English, so I would pop in the local buchladen with a prepared and rehearsed "Haben Sie bitte Bücher des englischen Autors Alastair McLean? adding to the charming young lady, 'In deutscher Sprache bitte.'
I'd love to report that this turned out to be the perfect ice-breaker or chat-up line but the reality is that we were both too shy, One of life's ironies is that later on, charming German young ladies would be happy to chat me up once they realised I could speak the language, but by then I was happily married Oh well !

Then of course came the films, which must have increased his book sales considerably and then I read a review of his latest book which said that unfortunately, after his terrific books, he had started writing his latest works as potential film scripts and thinking about it, I could agree with that so I stopped buying his later works, a pity because as an author of thrillers he had been up there with the best.
 
Last edited:
Uckers is most definitely ludo…
 

6 Gallon Pot

Old-Salt
I read a review of his latest book which said that unfortunately, after his terrific books, he had started writing his latest works as potential film scripts
If you read the book, the author explains why MacLean took to writing film scripts.
(It's my review, I use a different handle over here)
 
If you read the book, the author explains why MacLean took to writing film scripts.
(It's my review, I use a different handle over here)
I'm a bit confused here. The review I refer to was about 35-40 years ago and most likely in The Telegraph which was my usual newspaper at the time (I gave up on it a while back)
 

6 Gallon Pot

Old-Salt
I'm a bit confused here. The review I refer to was about 35-40 years ago and most likely in The Telegraph which was my usual newspaper at the time (I gave up on it a while back)
You said you read a review that stated that his later books were written as potential film scripts so you stopped reading them. I then said if you read the book (that I reviewed) it explains why he started writing film scripts.
 

Auld-Yin

ADC
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
HMS Ulysses...I've lost count the number of times I've read that book since I was a spotty faced 14 year old back in the very early 70s... Read all his books up until 'The Way to Dusty Death' which was a bit rubbish, but Ulysses was a grippingly emotional tale based on a lived experience in the extreme environment of the Arctic Convoys. What a book! He was a Leading Torpedo Operator and took part in the infamous Convoy PQ17 on the light cruiser HMS Royalist which also saw action against Tirpitz. Some cracking books were penned by him. I may give this one a thumb through...
Two great books from the RN in WW2 were HMS Ulysses and The Cruel Sea with the latter edging it. I think Monsarrat was a better writer than MacLean.
 
I'm a bit confused here. The review I refer to was about 35-40 years ago and most likely in The Telegraph which was my usual newspaper at the time (I gave up on it a while back)
It must have been good reading South by Java Head as Singapore hadn't changed much since 1942, but it must have been difficult imagining the scene in Ice Station Zebra in the sweltering South East Asian humidity?
 

Latest Threads

Top