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Archive for the ‘Thrillers’ Category

Alistair MacLean was my favourite author during my teens. I continued reading MacLean’s books till my middle twenties, by which time I had read most of his books. After that I continued collecting my favourite books of his, but haven’t read them much. The last time I read a MacLean book was maybe around ten years back. ‘When Eight Bells Toll‘ was my most favourite book of his. Once upon a time, I used to read it often. I thought I’ll read it again.

The book starts with the legendary first page in which the narrator describes a gun called the Peacemaker Colt. The reader is lulled into a false sense of security and before the reader realizes it, MacLean plunges them into the abyss. This first page has often been quoted by thriller writers and taught in creative writing classes on how to write the perfect first page of a thriller. What happens after that – I’m not going to tell you 😊 Anything I reveal about the plot is going to be a spoiler. If you decide to read the book, I want the book to unfold its secrets and reveal its pleasures to you. So, no plot description here 😊

Reading a favourite of our younger years again is like stepping on a landmine. If the book hasn’t aged well, we’ll be disappointed, and it will spoil our earlier pleasant memory of the book. I have so many happy memories of reading ‘When Eight Bells Toll’ that I was worried. What happens if the book hasn’t aged well? What happens if MacLean has said something inappropriate which jars our 21st century sensibilities? I was thinking about this when I started the book. I needn’t have worried. The prose was as beautiful as I remembered it before. MacLean’s sense of humour sizzles in every page. Even when the bad guy is holding our narrator in a deadly grip and is trying to strangle him, our narrator is able to see the funny side of things, and it makes us laugh. I think MacLean’s dry humour is the biggest strength of all his books. There is no nudity, no kissing, no sex, no funny business in the story. If two characters are attracted to each other, they court each other in a courtly fashion through verbal sparring like in a Jane Austen novel. The conversations are fun to read. The descriptions of the sea and ships and nautical things are beautiful, authentic, and educational without being overwhelming. I loved most of the characters in the book. Even one of bad characters is cool. The narrator’s boss is called Uncle Arthur and he is kind of like M from the James Bond novels, but Uncle Arthur is better, much better. I am not a big fan of M, but Uncle Arthur is adorable and I loved him. If there is one complaint I have about the book, it is that the women characters are all depicted as damsels in distress.

I loved reading ‘When Eight Bells Toll’ again. It was vintage MacLean. The first two-thirds of the book was as good or even better than I remember it. I’m glad I read it again. I can say that it is still one of my favourites.

Alistair MacLean was one of the popular thriller writers of the 20th century. He was Scottish. I think it is important to acknowledge that. Many of his stories were set during the Second World War and the Cold War. MacLean served in the Royal Navy during the war, and he used that experience and his knowledge of ships and the sea in his books, which gave a realistic and authentic feel to his stories. I think the height of his fame was between the ’60s and the ’70s when many of his books were adapted into films. The most famous ones were ‘The Guns of Navarone‘, ‘Where Eagles Dare‘ and ‘Force 10 from Navarone‘. MacLean died in the late ’80s, when the Cold War was still on and the popularity of his books has steadily declined since then. It is sad because his books are great entertainment. His publishers have released a new edition of his books recently with Lee Child’s blurb on the cover. I hope that inspires new readers to pick up his books and enjoy them.

I’m sharing below the legendary first pages of the book. Hope you like them.

Have you read ‘When Eight Bells Toll‘? Which is your favourite MacLean book? Do you like thrillers?

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