What did I read as a boy?
I read the novels of Alistair Maclean, a Scot with a background in the Royal Navy and employment as a schoolteacher, who wrote 28 novels, a collection of short stories and several non-fiction titles between 1955 and 1986. He died in 1987 at the age of 64 and now rests in a cemetery in Switzerland along with the actor Richard Burton who, coincidentally, starred in the Hollywood adaptation of Where Eagles Dare with Clint Eastwood.
Maclean was a high-volume bestseller and a hugely popular author throughout the 1960s and 1970s. One reliable source puts Maclean’s total book sales at 150 million. In the list of all-time bestsellers, that figure puts him somewhere between Stephen King and Dan Brown. Not bad for a writer whose books never contained any sex. Maclean thought that sex was a diversion that slowed down the action.
After all these years, his books can feel dated, but the high-quality writing shines through especially in his work from the 1960s. My own favourite is Fear is the Key written in 1961. It’s a twisting tale of revenge written with suspense, action and humour.
Perhaps the quote that sums up Maclean for me is “I’m not a born writer, and I don’t enjoy writing.” The expression on his face when he spoke those words was not recorded and so, unfortunately, we don’t know whether he was serious. I like to think he was sporting a big grin. Anyway, grinning or not, in my opinion, Alistair Maclean is one of the all-time great action writers.