By virtue of international law and obvious self-interest, hospitals and hospital ships are normally exempt from deliberate attack during wartime. Thus, the attacks on the hospital ship SAN ANDREAS are both surprising and inexplicable-- all the more so, inasmuch as none of the attempts seem designed to sink the vessel but rather to slow it down so as to enable the Germans to board it at their leisure. This interpretation of events is validated by the existence of saboteurs who disable both equipment and crew members in such a manner as to impede the ship’s progress from Murmansk to Scotland.
The enemy, however, does not anticipate the skill and tenacity of Archie McKinnon, the ship’s bosun, who takes command when the bridge officers are wounded in an air attack. It is McKinnon who not only unmasks the saboteurs, but also, in a daring maneuver, turns the tables on the enemy, and despite his lack of armament, sinks a German submarine. Moreover, it is McKinnon who determines the reason for the attacks on the seemingly helpless hospital ship--it carries a shipment of gold from the Soviet Union to Great Britain concealed in its hull.
Alistair MacLean has developed a formula which in varying degrees has brought him fame and fortune. As in his other works, one lonely man must not only survive seemingly impossible odds but must also surmount personal tragedy to gain the love of a good woman. MacLean does not produce great literature, but he is capable of creating memorable scenes filled with extraordinary violence and bitterness superimposed on plots of incredible complexity. SAN ANDREAS is not one of MacLean’s best, but it is a “rattling good yarn,” and that, in and of itself, is enough for his legions of fans.