Skip to main content

San Andreas - Alistair MacLean

I never thought I will live to say this, but I was disappointed with this one. I finished with San Andreas a couple of weeks back, and I can still feel like I have a few pages left.
The story was a typical MacLean - set aboard a maimed ship in a wicked sea, infested with the enemy. There was the stoic bo'sun Archie McKinnon and the usual Scots stereotypes, the incapacitated captain, the strong, intelligent but naive nurse Janet, and several other members of the crew, a number of whom get eliminated quite early on. The suspense however remains, as the ship is crippled by saboteur/(s) and time is running out as the incredibly clairvoyant bo'sun scrambles desperately to remain ahead of the mysterious moves of the nasty Germans. Unlike some of the last few novels of MacLean, this one did not disappoint in terms of action. There was quite enough (but not too much) of leaping about and swimming in cold waters and battling the blizzard, punctuated by lengthy, sardonic discussions, which were, as usual, a treat to read. 

Sabotage of naval vessels is common ground for several MacLean novels and as expected, the story was dripping with naval jargons which, I couldn't quite comprehend. I would have had to use the internet to clarify things but this is Alistair MacLean we are talking about, so I decided to use my time to find out the criminal instead. The vivid descriptions of the evil fog, the swirling sea-waters and the carnage in the bombed ship were particularly compelling, and set the mood nicely in place. There were, as expected, numerous characters, and their facades were well drawn up too. All in all, the story progresses pretty impressively, though the lack of a consistent sidekick - almost at par with McKinnon's level of efficiency and a recurring arrangement in most of MacLeans's works - was glaringly missing (I felt that Naseby should have been introduced earlier in the story). In the said circumstances, I got the feeling that we missed out on some potential glorious conversational gems. There were however, some interesting angles: the German pilot prisoner and Sister Morrison, Nurse Janet's past and of course the overriding secret of the ship and the identity of the perpetrator/(s) of the crimes. It all built up nicely, right up to page 373 of 376. And then suddenly, in a matter of two and a half pages, it was all over.

The ends were loosely tied, and closure was such a forced affair that it appeared far too realistic to me after all the superhuman efforts of McKinnon. I missed a massive showdown, the setup for which had been brilliantly set up by page 365. The tension kept mounting and then out of nowhere, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Not that I wasn't pleased for the characters, but I was saddened by what could have been. Also, the fate of Lieutenant Ulbricht keeps nagging at me, as does the almost callous treatment of Ferguson and Curran.

It may well have been that my expectations were too high from my past experience, and maybe, if this would have been my first MacLean, I might even have had more fun. Nevertheless, Archie McKinnon goes down in the list of some of the best MacLean heroes I've had the good sense to read about. So instead of brooding over San Andreas, I shall try to pick up another MacLean to set the record straight.

P.S. I loved these alternate covers for San Andreas, especially the first one, which presumably shows Archie McKinnon exactly how I imagined him...

Images courtesy: Wikipedia,,


Popular posts from this blog

Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 
Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 
Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such w…

Higginbothams of Ooty

It took us some time to decipher that the name of the crossroad was Charing Cross. After all, it is an unexpected name for an Indian crossroad in Tamil Nadu, and the mildly opinionated chap driving us to our hotel had a heavy accent. Charing Cross turned out to be a triangular enclosure, with an imposing fountain (we later discovered that it was named the Adam's Fountain; it is three-tiered, the second one topped by four very colourful cherubs). Since we had arrived in the middle of the afternoon in the thick of winter, the roads were thronging with people and vehicles. Shops were bustling and business appeared brisk. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic as we passed woollens shops, gift houses, eateries, groceries and mobile-phone shops. 
We returned to the market later in the evening, after having deposited our luggage. Both my husband and I had been fending off a nasty bout of flu and needed to restock our now near-empty medicine pouch. Charing Cross in the evening (thi…

Top 10 books to read when you are depressed

Books are handy weapons to stave off blues - be it the dregs of the Sunday evening or a nasty bout of flu. When you are depressed, it takes herculean efforts to shake off the feeling. And I'm not even talking about the more severe, clinical form of depression. I can't get myself to pour myself a glass of water the day after Diwali; on Fridays on the other hand, I am the epitome of eternal sunshine. For such moody, dull days, these top 10 books are the surest way to dust a little sparkle in your life.
1) Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog): This is Jerome K. Jerome at his absolute best. It was published some 130 years back and is still capable of eliciting raucous laughter. It is the honest journal of three young, bumbling flatmates and their dog on a river cruise. Look out for some meandering, pedantic pages, but they offer some relief from the relentless humour. 
2) James Herriot'sDog Stories: If you love animals (and dogs, in particular), this is the ultimate…