Mysterious circumstances

Ever mindful of watching the pennies I browse second hand books in charity shops looking for something interesting to read, not too expensive but contributing towards a good cause. The other day I picked up a book by Alistair McLean, an author I read a great deal when I was young, along with Hammond Innes. Several of their books were turned into films, and in fact I think the one I picked up has been. Their stories were what you might call adventure stories, usually a mystery at the heart of whatever unexpected pickle the main character  nearly always, if not always a man. There was physical adventure, sometimes trekking or skiing or climbing through a difficult terrain, sometimes chasing the villain, sometimes pursued by the baddie, the elements or the environment against them. There was a clear narrative, baddies and goodies and usually a beautiful woman for some romantic interest. That may seem dated now but there are plenty of books and films which follow that same pattern.

I realised that I knew very little about Alistair McLean except he was probably my parents age when I read his books and no doubt dead now. He was born in Glasgow in 1922, so I was right in guessing his age – halfway between that of my dad and mum, and he died in 1987. Like my dad he was called up at the age of nineteen, but being younger that wasn’t until 1941 that he joined the navy, and like my dad he was demobbed in 1946. Alistair, however, went back to education and went to the University of Glasgow to study English. My Dad tried to get back into education after he was demobbed but I guess seven years of his life had been taken by the war and for various reasons he wasn’t able to pursue it. In 1956 Alistair entered and won a story competition, submitting a maritime story and encouraged by this and his brother he began to write.

Alistair didn’t particularly enjoy writing, he knuckled down to it and wrote in a very organised and planned way. He actually found it boring, but financially very rewarding, especially when films were made of many of his books. He wrote thirty-two books fiction and non-fiction, including two as Ian Stuart which he published under the nom-de-plume to see if it was his name or his books which sold! He was only sixty-four when he died and there apparently is some mystery surrounding his death in Munich!

Hammond Innes, the other ‘adventure’ writer I enjoyed as a child, was English, born in Horsham in 1913 and wrote forty-four novels, children’s stories and non-fiction books, dying in 1998 a month before his eighty-fifth birthday. He was a journalist and his first novel was published in 1937. He joined the Royal Artillery during the war, but continued to write, and after he was demobbed in 1946 he became a full-time writer. Unlike Alistair McLean, Hammond did not seem to write just to earn a living, he wrote because of a passion for writing and telling stories:

His novels are notable for a fine attention to accurate detail in descriptions of places, such as in Air Bridge (1951), set partially at RAF Gatow, RAF Membury after its closure and RAF Wunstorf during the Berlin Airlift. Innes went on to produce books in a regular sequence, with six months of travel and research followed by six months of writing. Many of his works featured events at sea. His output decreased in the 1960s, but was still substantial. He became interested in ecological themes, as in High Stand, his “tree” novel. He continued writing until just before his death. His last novel was Delta Connection (1996). Unusually for the thriller genre, Innes’ protagonists were often not “heroes” in the typical sense, but ordinary men suddenly thrust into extreme situations by circumstance. Often, this involved being placed in a hostile environment (the Arctic, the open sea, deserts), or unwittingly becoming involved in a larger conflict or conspiracy. The protagonist generally is forced to rely on his own wits and making best use of limited resources, rather than the weapons and gadgetry commonly used by thriller writers.

The book I am reading at present is ‘Night Without End’ by McLean first published in 1959 and starts off with a passenger plane crashing in mysterious circumstances into the Arctic wastes near a research station. It certainly is gripping, but of course dated in many ways, and with some things included which would not be acceptable now. I thought it had been made into a film, and I even thought I had seen it – in fact, although a film was planned, it was never made. I am enjoying it, and  have no idea who the murderer might be, although as the characters are being bumped off one by one, no doubt it will probably become apparent!


  1. andrewbeechroad

    Yes I must admit to only “knowing” about him, but then I looking at his works I see how many of them were made into films which I watched! I suspect they will be better reads than Frederick Forsyth, whose novels The Day of the Jacal and the Odessa File i found riveting when I first read them into the 1970s, but looking at them again I found the style clunky.

    Liked by 1 person

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