Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adventure at sea

Sometimes the third time really is the charm. So it is with Alistair Maclean and me. I missed McLean entirely during his heyday when he was one of the world's most popular writers of thrillers, yet I had heard so many good things about his books that I finally decided to give them a try. The first two novels I read, Partisans and Puppet on a Chain, proved disappointing. My third attempt, however, produced different results.

San Andreas, published in 1984, is a World War II adventure that takes place entirely aboard a hospital ship in the North Atlantic in winter. Hospital ships, marked with big red crosses, are supposedly neutral, yet the Germans seem determined to stop, if not sink, the San Andreas. One or more saboteurs aboard keep destroying navigational equipment, while planes and submarines attack with relatively light arms, suggesting they want to do damage, but not too much damage. So what's going on?

When the ship's captain is badly wounded in one attack, the responsibility for getting the San Andeas to safety falls on Archie McKinnon, the bosun. The hospital ship has no weapons aboard, so McKinnon must defend the ship using the bad weather, the long winter nights and the ship itself. Then there are the problems of finding the saboteurs(s) and getting the ship to a friendly port.

McKinnon turns out to be my kind of hero, one who uses brains more than brawn, and the result proves thoroughly entertaining. San Andreas may be the name of a California fault line, but McLean's novel with that title turned out to be nothing like a disaster.

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