Alistair MacLean Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Alistair MacLean was a writer of thrillers in the tradition of John Buchan, though without Buchan’s depth. Although a few of his books, such as H.M.S. Ulysses (1955), may be described as straight adventure stories, most of MacLean’s novels involve international intrigue or espionage. In contrast to a writer such as Robert Ludlum, however, whose lengthy novels of intrigue and espionage feature tortuously complicated plots, MacLean crafted taut narratives that move at breakneck speed from the first chapter to the last. The hero of a MacLean novel faces one apparently insoluble problem after another, leading to a final confrontation fraught with peril. Formulaic but vividly realized, many of MacLean’s novels have been adapted for the screen.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Anderson, Patrick. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction. New York: Random House, 2007. Comprehensive history of the American thriller provides the tools to understand MacLean’s contributions to the genre.

Britton, Wesley. Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005. Traces the evolution of the figure of the spy in espionage thrillers and other works of film and fiction; sheds light on MacLean’s works.

Gadney, Reg. “Middle-Class Heroics: The Novels of Alistair MacLean.” London Magazine 12 (December/January, 1972/1973): 94-105. Emphasizes the representation and ideology of class deployed in MacLean’s fiction.

Harper, Ralph. The World of the Thriller. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974. Study of thrillers with particular attention to espionage and spy stories such as those written by MacLean.

Hepburn, Allan. Intrigue: Espionage and Culture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005. This study of British and American spy fiction begins with three general chapters on the appeal, emotional effects, and narrative codes of the genre. Provides context for understanding MacLean.

“Ho-Hum Life of the Man from Navarone.” Life 71 (November 26, 1971): 91. Profile of MacLean, written for a mass audience.

Lee, Robert A. Alistair MacLean: The Key Is Fear. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1976. Very brief but focused study of MacLean’s writing; part of the Popular Writers of Today series.

McDowell, Edwin. “Alistair MacLean Dies: Books Sold in Millions.” New York Times, February 3, 1987, p. B7. Obituary looks at the life and works of MacLean, who wrote in a variety of genres. Notes that it took him about a month to write a book.

Webster, Jack. Alistair MacLean: A Life. London: Chapmans, 1991. The first major biography of MacLean to be published after the author’s death; as the title implies, the focus is more on biography than on criticism of the author’s work.