The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this novel, as many of MacLean’s books tend to be a bit “fluffy” for me, but I wasn’t disappointed with his efforts on this one. Of course, like many, I’d seen the film when I was a kid, but I’d only now picked up a copy of the book to read and I’m glad I did.
The setting is somewhere in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey after Italy threw in the towel in WWII. The Germans control a series of islands and the shipping lanes through them, although I don’t know how historically accurate this would have been, because they do so through their feared air force, complete with hundreds of Stukas. I would have thought their air force would have been non-existent by then, but then I’m not a WWII scholar, so I’m willing to be wrong. Anyway, 1200 British troops are trapped on one of these islands and are awaiting rescue, but the problem is, it’s got to be by boat and that can’t be done because the mythical guns of Navarone rule the area, huge, monstrous guns protected by natural and man-made defenses, making it a virtual impregnable fortress. It’d be a suicide mission for anyone to attack it and yet, the British navy has to sail right by it within days to rescue these troops.
Enter Captain Keith Mallory. He is a famous New Zealander rock climber who has survived behind enemy lines for months at a time. He’s going to lead this little expedition. His close Greek friend and killing machine, Andrea, is coming along. So too, Stevens, good at linguistics and rock climbing, Brown, a saboteur, and Miller, a brash American who is a medic and a demolitions man. They have three days to scale the sheer 400 foot cliff walls on the southern side of Navarone, destroy the guns, and escape before the British navy arrives.
The climb nearly kills them. As luck would have it, a German spy back at HQ had alerted the Germans to their presence, so everyone’s looking for them everywhere, making it virtually impossible to go anywhere, get anything done. They do hook up with two resistance fighters and the reader spends the next few days in a frenzy with these men, anxiously trying to enter the fortress and destroy the guns and then escape. It’s a pretty exciting story.
This book reminded me a lot of Where Eagles Dare. In fact, it seemed like a complete rip off. I don’t know which was published first, probably this one, but there are a ton of similarities. The cold, the high altitudes, the climbing, the near inhuman strength our protagonists must display, the injuries and deaths our heroes encounter, the “elite” status of the German troops, the back stabbings and betrayals. Very similar. But they’re both still good books. I’d read each again. My primary complaint is in MacLean’s boilerplate formula for his protagonist heroes. They always seem to know the right things to do and say. They always seem to fight through exhaustion with superhuman strength and, indeed, have superhuman strength. And that just doesn’t seem too realistic to me. It makes them out to be more superhero than anything to me, but perhaps that’s just my viewpoint, I don’t know. Anyway, not a bad book. Now I want to see the movie again. Recommended.