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Alistair McLean's War

A review by Dapperdunn

'Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy. ' How can those words not send a shiver of delight down your spine?

Never having read any of MacLean’s books but having seen his most famous books on the big{small} screen, I was very much looking forward to reading this. It arrived and I opened it with a slight frisson of excitement. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the dust jacket doesn’t disappoint, MacLean in square rig looking steely eyed along with a sleek grey messenger of death and a merchant ship on fire, smoke billowing out into the darkening sky. On the reverse, a photo of HMS Diadem, the same class of ship as HMS Royalist the light cruiser that MacLean served on during the Second World War; the basis for his first novel HMS Ulysses. In addition, there is a forward by Lee Child. Yes, the Lee Child. He’s a MacLean fan {who knew} and had also written a foreword to a reissue of MacLean’s Fear is the Key.


After the foreword, the author sets out the books he is going to cover and an explanation of how the book is laid out. There is a glossary of terms, then the main text of the book. Then the appendices. a brief synopsis of each of his books, two short stories and then the page notes {of which there are not too many}.

The book itself is laid out in chronological order, starting with his formative years, joining the Navy, and his time at sea. Then after the war until in the end, the book culminates in his death.

Each chapter details a particular time in MacLean’s life and as the author describes particular events, he quotes passages from a book illustrating where MacLean has drawn his inspiration from. It works, even if you’ve not read any of his books before. Although on the back of reading this book, I’m now halfway through HMS Ulysses and enjoying it very much. The book isn’t just about his war experience, his time after leaving the Andrew and his 2 marriages and his problems with alcohol are also covered in here. But always we’re returned to his books and where he drew his inspiration from.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alistair MacLean’s War and would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about his Naval service, but especially recommend it to fans of MacLean’s books.

The only fault I can find in the book is the author refers to Uckers as Royal Navy slang for the game of Ludo. Not just once, but twice. I can assure anyone unfamiliar with Uckers that it is most definitely NOT Ludo. It’s actually a grievous insult to call a matelot a ‘Ludo playing b*stard’. Notwithstanding that, an enjoyable read.

4.5 Stars

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