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Tom Chaney: Ice Cold Thriller

Of Writers And Their Books: Ice Cold Thriller. Tom declares, if a land based novel can have swashbuckling, then Athabasca buckles swash to a fare the well. This column first appeared 19 July 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Chicken Necks and Gizzards

By Tom Chaney

Ice Cold Thriller

Every now and again I run across a book by an author with whom I was once familiar, and whom I liked once, but neglected, only to find he is now dead.

Such effrontery for a man to shuffle off his mortal coil (Shakespeare, by the way) 'ere I am finished with him.

Faulkner did that to me. So did Hemmingway. I regarded their leave taking as a personal affront. At least their going was marked by enough fanfare to cause me to take note.

Others, such as John D. MacDonald, snuck away, silently slithering off an unlit way to dusky death (Shakespeare again -- how erudite!) without my being aware. Eternally I hoped for another book in vain.

Such is the case of Alistair MacLean.

I enjoyed his far north adventures -- Ice Station Zebra (1963); his war thrillers -- The Guns of Navarone (1957) and Where Eagles Dare (1967); and his sea stories -- H.M.S. Ulysses (1955) and The Lonely Sea (1985).

And a slew of fine actors romped across the movie screen bringing those thrillers to life -- Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, and Charles Bronson, to name a few.

MacLean, who died in 1987, was born in Scotland in 1922. According to one biographical essay, English was his second language. At home the family spoke the Scots language -- no English allowed.

He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1941 and served in a variety of fleets. Much of the time he was on the Russian convoy routes. Thus he gained experience which served him well in his novels.

Following the war MacLean took an English Honors degree and taught for a while before devoting himself to writing.

Producer Carl Foreman bought the screen rights to his second book, The Guns of Navarone. Foreman observed MacLean's "gift for keeping his audience enthralled by the pace and drive of his tale."

That pace and drive is certainly true of the novel I picked up the other day. Athabasca (1980) is filled with "Adventure, sabotage and murder in the unforgiving Arctic environment."

Set in the tar sand fields of Canada and the oil fields of Alaska, Athabasca roars to life when the operator of an oil company in Prudhoe Bay receives an anonymous threat of sabotage.

Jim Brady Enterprises is called in to investigate, and Dermott and Mackenzie arrive on the scene. No progress is made. The operator is killed. A pump station is damaged. Bodies pile up.

Damage is done to the oil sand fields in Canada. Murder by gun and by cold holds sway.

The Mounties and the FBI arrive. Internal sabotage is suspected. This is proved to be the case, but other evil forces are at work as well.

If a land based novel can have swashbuckling, then Athabasca buckles swash to a fare the well.

Where the novels of Alistair MacLean differ from those of, say, Ian Fleming is in the absence of, or at least the down playing of, the romantic interests. A couple of women are kidnapped in Athabasca, but the plot does not hinge on that kidnapping.

In fact, the movie makers have performed romance enhancements on MacLean's tales when they are translated into movie-ese.

But for a fine, fast paced adventure, check out his tales. Good summer reading from the frozen north.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-07-20 06:31:40
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