Posts Tagged ‘Scottish Writers’

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?

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, late at night, I was watching my favourite Netflix show, when I suddenly remembered A.J.Cronin. It made me smile.

A.J.Cronin was probably the first literary fiction writer that I ever read. I was in my middle teens when I first discovered his books. I still remember how it happened. I was at the bookshop one day, browsing. I used to spend a lot of time in bookshops even then, when people my age were playing cricket or watching TV or gossiping. When I was browsing at the bookshop, I saw Cronin’s ‘The Citadel‘ in one of the shelves. I’ve never heard of him before. Most of the books at the bookshop were not affordable for me, and so I mostly spent time browsing, but this one was priced so low that I was surprised. I’d never seen a full novel at this price and I couldn’t resist getting it. I read it a little later and I loved it. Sometime later, when I went to the library, I saw another Cronin book. I couldn’t resist borrowing that and reading it. This continued happening and Cronin’s books started cropping up everywhere – I saw them at the library or at secondhand bookshops and I continued getting them and I loved most of them. I didn’t know anyone who had read Cronin. None of my friends or acquaintances had heard of him. He was my secret.

I continued reading Cronin’s books till my late twenties, but at some point it was hard to get them, because they went out of print and secondhand copies were hard to come by. I spotted the occasional copy at the library, but otherwise Cronin had just disappeared. When the Kindle arrived, I looked for Cronin’s books but they weren’t there. During the peak of his career, Cronin was a very popular writer, and many of his books were made into movies or TV series, but now it looked like he had disappeared. I was surprised when in one of the online bookclubs I used to be a part of, readers one day started discussing Cronin. I didn’t know anyone else who had read his books. Most of the readers who discussed Cronin’s books were closer in age to my mother, and when I told them that I loved Cronin’s books, they were surprised, because according to them, I was too young to have read Cronin.

Most of Cronin’s stories were about doctors – ‘The Citadel‘, my most favourite book of his, was about a doctor who worked in a mining village and his wife who was a teacher there; ‘The Green Years‘ was about a boy who wanted to become a doctor; ‘Grand Canary‘ was a story set in a ship in which the main character was a drunk doctor. ‘Adventures of a Black Bag‘ was about a doctor called Dr.Finlay and the cases he handles in a small town / village. ‘Adventures in a Black Bag’ was probably based on Cronin’s own experiences as a doctor and it became quite famous when it was first published. It was made into a TV series which was very popular. I think this might have been the forerunner of and the inspiration for most of the TV series which followed in future decades, including two popular Netflix series now, ‘Doc Martin‘ and ‘Virgin River‘, which are about doctors in small towns / villages. The doctor in ‘Virgin River’ looks like a drunk doctor who is perennially annoyed and he almost looks like a character who has stepped out of the pages of one of Cronin’s books.

So yesterday, when I suddenly remembered Cronin, I paused my Netflix show, and searched for Cronin’s books on the Kindle. When I pressed the ‘Search’ button, I was in for a surprise. Page after page of listings turned up with Cronin’s books! I’ve never seen that before! It was like a lost treasure had been found suddenly and Christmas came early. I was so thrilled!

I couldn’t resist buying the Cronin books, of course! I wanted to add every title which was listed, but then had to resist temptation and pick more carefully. I got all my favourites, ‘The Citadel’, ‘The Green Years’, ‘Lady with Carnations’. ‘Lady with Carnations‘ is one of the Cronin books in which the main character is not a doctor. The story is about an aunt and a niece who are very fond of each other, but then surprisingly discover that they are both in love with the same man. What happens after that is very beautiful. I also got ‘Shannon’s Way‘ which was the sequel to ‘The Green Years’. I always wanted to find out what happened to the boy in ‘The Green Years’ who wanted to become a doctor. I am excited to find that out when I read ‘Shannon’s Way’. I also got ‘Adventures of a Black Bag’, ‘The Innkeeper’s Wife‘, Cronin’s alternate Christmas story on the Nativity, ‘Hatter’s Castle‘, Cronin’s first book which I’ve always wanted to read, ‘Adventures in Two Worlds‘, Cronin’s autobiography, in which Cronin describes how he started out as a doctor and ended up also becoming a writer. There were not many doctors who wrote stories in the pre-Second World era (I think Somerset Maugham was trained as a doctor but didn’t practise, while Anton Chekhov was probably one of the few practising doctors who also wrote stories) and so that should make interesting reading.

I’m so excited to get started. I think I’ll probably read ‘The Green Years’ again and then get to ‘Shannon’s Way’. My long dream of reading ‘Shannon’s Way’ is finally going to be realized and I’m so excited!

Have you read A.J.Cronin? Which of his books are your favourites?

Read Full Post »