So this is my first post on this blog and I want to do the honours by starting off with one of my favourite authors - Alistair MacLean. I don't know if you are going to judge me for this, but his books are quick-fix solution for most of my mood swings. Though not all of his books are superbly brilliant and coherent, I continue to enjoy his characters more than the plot. My first tryst with MacLean was Partisans when I must have been thirteen or fourteen and the affection lingers even now.
Partisans is set in the middle of WW II and follows the journey of the suave protagonist Major Peter Peterson and his friends/enemies through treacherous lands and seas. The principle group comprises of five men and two women, all of whom give away far less than necessary. They are all moving towards the common goal of reaching Yugoslavia in one piece - chiefly with the help of Major Peterson - but their ulterior motives make for several life-and-death situations on the way.
This is a very cloak-and-dagger kind of story, but unlike some his other war-themed stories, Partisans is markedly lacking in action. The characters are mostly either driving or talking, which does make the plot a little too heavy. There's plenty of political discussions (the epitome of which, according to me, is Captain Jamie Harrison's rhetoric), which would perhaps make more sense if you are well read in such matters (I wasn't, and so I had to read up separately). Also, since nothing in an Alistair MacLean novel is what it seems to be, it is best to simply to read through Partisans and hope that things tie up in the last page, which it does, well before the last page and quite satisfactorily. The one consolation is that this story had nothing to do with sea vessels and submarines (which are understandably MacLean's forte) and so a lot of the jargon was quite understandable.
But as always, the characters are the ones that make MacLean's stories come alive. Somehow, I've always found that the stoic, good characters in his books are far well drawn out than the villains, and Partisans is no different. The trio of Major Peterson, George and Alex make up the typical MacLean-pack - incredibly sharp, quick and brilliant liars, while most of the other characters contribute in various degrees to the further establishment of the cunning of the trio. The girls - Sarina and Lorraine - provide the sympathetic, if somewhat naive, viewpoint of an unaffected observer. Wittiness and poetic sarcasm abound in the exchanges, especially those involving George, though Giacomo does his best too. My only complaint was the characters of Michael and Alex, especially the former. He was severely underutilised and when he was mentioned, it was mostly used to bring out a contrast. The poor guy had a point or two to prove too!
The romantic angle exists too, but it barely mentioned and that, in a way, maintains the mood of the story - cold, taut and speculative. And though it may drag a little in some bits, Partisans has something of a John Le Carre feel to it, with less of the heartache.
P.S. The book in the photo above is a bit battered as it belonged to my Mom, when she bought it in 1982 at a Wheeler bookstore. Back then, it cost 12 Rupees!