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When I started collecting the novels by Alistair MacLean I read a number of them as soon as I'd got them. But, for some reason lost in the dim mists of time a number of them were left unread. Being an unashamed hoarder, especially of books, DVD and CDs, the aforementioned unread books were never given away or popped into a convenient charity bag. This weekend I had some spare time so I read Santorini for the first time.
Alistair MacLean was born in Scotland in 1922 and served in the Royal Navy during World War II. His first novel, HMS Ulysees drew on his wartime experiences and was a success. Specialising in the genres of adventures stories, spy stories and war stories MacLean wrote 28 novels and a collection of short stories during his career. A number of his novels were turned into films featuring major film stars of the day. These included Where Eagles Dare (Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood), Breakheart Pass (Charles Bronson), Bear Island (Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Lee), Ice Station Zebra (Rock Hudson) and The Guns of Navarone (Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven). Santorini was MacLean's last novel and was published in 1986. Alistair MacLean died in 1987.
A NATO spy ship, the Ariadne is witness to two accidents in a short space of time. Firstly, a luxury yacht named the Delos catches fire and sinks quickly into the Aegean Sea. A short time later a mysterious jet also catches fire and crashes nearby.
Commander Talbot of the Ariadne is immediately suspicious. Where has the mystery jet come from and what was it carrying? Why is the wealthy Greek owner of the Delos unable to provide an satisfactory explanation as to how his yacht sank? Are the two events connected, and if so, how?
Talbot and his crew delve deeper into the mystery and discover that the mystery jet was carrying two types of bombs. At least one of those is steadily ticking away underneath the sea and could explode at any moment. This is a potentially catastrophic situation as the plane lies close to the island of Thera (Santorini) which has a history of volcanic activity. Any explosion could start a chain reaction which could trigger the start of a nuclear winter.
And if that wasn't enough to contend with it appears that someone in the Pentagon has a vested interest in what happens to the contents of the plane....
Unlike some thriller writers Alistair MacLean never created a series of novels featuring one main character, or indeed a group of recurring characters. Despite this his novels do conform to a particular style and some of them share elements in common.
Perhaps the first thing you notice about a MacLean novel is that, generally speaking, any female characters don't usually play much of a major role. If there is any sort of relationship between the "hero" and a female character it's dealt with in rather a matter of fact fashion. You won't find much love, romance or sex in a MacLean novel. This is very evident in Santorini in the relationship between Van Gelder (second in command on the Ariadne) and Irene Charial (the niece of Mr Andropulous, the owner of the Delos). This never goes any further than the statement that Van Gelder finds her attractive. There's no kissing and certainly no sex or other physical contact.
In the absence of love and romance most of MacLean's novels concentrate on action and adventure with the main character(s) usually being tested in some way or pushed towards the physical limit of his abilities, although this is not particularly the case with Santorini. A number of novels are set in locations which are either isolated or which experience extreme weather conditions or both.
Some novels are written in the first person and some in the third person.
Santorini, like a number of later MacLean novels is written in the third person. It has a very linear, straightforward plot so should present no particular challenges for anyone who finds it hard to follow those novels that have very twisty involved plots.
The book itself is a fairly quick, light read and my edition at 220 pages (the reprinted edition has more pages) took me no more than a couple of hours to get through. As always, MacLean's style of writing is accessible and the language he uses is straightforward and undemanding although there are some passages full of detail about nuclear bombs, raising planes from beneath the sea etc. MacLean ensures that nothing in the plot degenerates into technobabble which might leave the reader unable to follow what is happening.
So, what's this book like? Is it any good?
The majority of the action is set aboard the Ariadne although there are a few scenes set elsewhere such as the White House. MacLean's plots usually work well within an enclosed environment but, to be honest, I found this book rather disappointing. There were too many characters who didn't really have enough of a role in the plot and, to an extent, it was difficult to keep track of who was who and what their particular job was.
Commander Talbot, Van Gelder and Denholm, the electronics expert on the Ariadne come across quite well but there are other characters such as Alexander and Aristotle, the two men who are rescued with Andropulous from the Delos who are little more than names on a page. None of the three female characters who appear are characterised that well either with Irene Charial's friend Eugenia come off worst of the three.
The dialogue was also very disappointing. The use of terms like "video films" dates the novel somewhat, but that's only to be expected given that it was written in 1986. The main problem was that sections of the dialogue came across as though MacLean was writing the novel in the 1960s or before which made the characters sound older than they were meant to be and jarred somewhat with the 1980s references. In a sense I suppose it's almost like making an 80s film and giving the characters the dialogue from a boys own adventure film from the 1930s or 40s. It doesn't really ring true.
The other aspect of the book I found to disappointing was the plotting. Usually in an Alistair MacLean novel you either don't know who the "baddie" or "baddies" are, or you think that you do and there's some sort of plot twist. In Santorini you're told pretty early on who Talbot and his crew think "baddies" are and you spend the rest of the book wondering when the twist or the surprise if going to come. The only problem is, it never does, which leaves you feeling somewhat short-changed. The Pentagon plot thread is nicely built up but ultimately comes to nothing and is wrapped up far too quickly as is the eventual climax of the novel which also feels far too rushed.
So, in essence, if you're looking for a book which runs along the lines of:-
+ This is the problem
+ These are the baddies
+ This is how we solved the problem
+ This is what the baddies did
+ This is how we beat the baddies
then look no further than this. If, however, you're looking for a story with a few surprises along the way that will keep you guessing for the majority of the time you're reading it then cross this one of your list because it doesn't do that in any way, shape or form.
Overall, this is the worst of the MacLean novels that I've reviewed on Dooyoo, which is not to say that it's bad, just that I expected a lot better based on his other books that I've read.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper; New edition edition (3 Sep 2009)
This story has been set during a time of great fear about nuclear weapons. The British naval frigate Ariadne, fitted with sophisticated electronic equipment, is on a mission to carry out a hydrographic survey in the Aegean Sea. Officially, that is. Unofficially, she is a spy ship, the eyes and ears of NATO. Her Captain is Commander Talbot, her first officer Lieutenant-Commander Van Gelder, both extremely well qualified men, and both ex-submariners. The radio room receives a distress call from a sinking Greek yacht called the Delos. At almost the same moment a plane, almost certainly a bomber, mysteriously crashes into the sea. It appears that there is a connection between these two events, and no coincidence that the Ariadne was the only ship in the area. Commander Talbot’s investigations lead him to believe, Andropoulus, one of the 6 rescued members of the Delos is responsible. Without giving too much of the story away, Talbot and Van Gelder must figure out who is behind a sinister plan involving an American Bomber, a private yacht, nuclear warheads, atomic bombs, terrorism, drugs, the Ariadne and even the Pentagon. To solve this Talbot is aided by deep-sea divers, a cryptologist, his own intuition and the co-operation of the Vice-Admiral Hawkins. At the same time he must raise a military plane from the depths containing a live Atom Bomb, sitting on an ancient tectonic boundary, a major cause of earth quakes. Although a good story, I would have expected something a little better from MacLean. The dialogue reads, to me, a bit too much like bad acting, and a lot more detail could have been added in many places. When we first meet Vice-Admiral Hawkins, we are led to believe that he is a particularly clever and inventive chap, having reached Admiral at a younger-than-usual age and the sentence: “He was widely regarded as having one of the most brilliant minds in the Royal Navy.” But it turns out that both Talbo
t and Van Gelder are considerably brighter than he is, spending most the story going along with everything, his only apparent use is his rank which gets results from the top brass. This aside, I did enjoy the story and the characters are well chosen, from the gallant Commander Talbot to the despicable Andropoulus. The addition of two Grecian beauties (Andropoulus’s niece and her friend) to dazzle the first lieutenant and the aristocratic electronics expert, adds extra colour. MacLean writes about the sea using his own experiences, and does so well. More emphasis on this aspect would have improved the book tremendously.
This is a military story about a ship that gets caught up in the middle of an incident that could lead to a devastating end.