Friday, May 1, 2015

Book review: Circus, by Alistair MacLean

It is rather difficult to review an Alistair Maclean book.

Some readers might not be able to go beyond the first chapter and put down the book rolling their eyes at the sheer audacity of characterization and implausibility of the plot.

Most of his books are also dated with action taking place in the Cold War era. The heroes are always extremely brave and patriotic undercover agents from MI6 or CIA and the villain is always the Secret Police in some communist country like Russia or East Germany.

The ladies, or should I say the lady (because there is usually only one) is also relegated to the status of eye candy. Her sole purpose in the book is to look pretty, fall in love with the hero, cry buckets of tears  and say, “You must not! You will get killed...” just to make sure that the readers fully understand  that the hero is in imminent danger of dying in every chapter (which he never actually is. Halfway through the book, it is actually the nasty villains with cold blue eyes that you will start feeling sorry for.)

However, those who like to read books featuring ultra suave heroes like James Bond would love these books. There is plenty of thrill, espionage, spies, traitors, a little romance, some cold blooded murders and all the other ingredients in his books that make them good spy thrillers. 

Heroes in Alistair Mcleans novels are a very special breed. They can take down dozens of baddies without breaking into a sweat or leaving a smudge on their pristine white shirts. Bruno Wildermann, the main character in “Circus” has such a long list of skills and accomplishments that James Bond seems Lilliputian in comparison.

He is a world-famous circus aerialist, trapeze artist and mentalist with a photographic memory,. He gets  recruited by the CIA to break into a heavily guarded Russian prison/research lab to steal the plans for creating an antimatter bomb, under cover of a circus tour to East Europe.

En route, there are stabbings, disappearances, murders and kidnappings but the hero remains committed to his mission. How he saves the day, the entire world and his family is for the reader to find out. 

Those who might take a dim view of  Alistair Maclean books should know that famous wartime movies like The Guns of Navarone (featuring Gregory Peck), Ice Station Zebra (with Rock Hudson), Where Eagles Dare (with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood) and Breakheart Pass (starring Charles Bronson). were based on his novels.

I must confess that I loved Alistair MacLean books when I was a teenager. Now I am re-reading them some 20 years later but this time with a  smile on my lips rather than with wide-eyed wonder and awe at the risky escapades of the hero.

Final verdict: An entertaining read but not one of Alistair Maclean's best novels. Still hard to put down after you go beyond the first few chapters.

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