Alistair MacLean - The Guns of Navarone (1957)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
It will doubtless surprise many to find this most pulp of World War II action-adventures included in a compendium of Scotland's most accomplished fiction. But cast out Gregory Peck and J Lee Thompson's plodding, waterlogged film adaptation from your tainted minds and savour instead Alistair MacLean's utterly compelling source novel. Typically, MacLean doesn't waste time scene-setting before plunging his readers into the thick of the action. In essence, the plot concerns a suicide mission to sabotage two notorious German gun posts on an impregnable cliff in occupied Greece. Rather like animated super-family The Incredibles, each of MacLean's five-strong team has some individual skill to contribute to the mission, from Captain Keith Mallory's boast to be the world's greatest rock climber to the sailing expert and alpine wanderer Andy Stevens.
Naturally, their assignment is punctuated with regular obstacles, most memorably the moment when our heroes seem on the verge of discovery, only to blow up an enemy boat with two conveniently at hand boxes of explosives. Yes, MacLean's characters are thinly sketched, the dialogue stilted and the occasional moralistic proselytising difficult to square with such evident glee at the violent, action set-pieces. Yet, the exhilarating narrative drive is in keeping with MacLean's self-effacing assertion: 'I'm a storyteller. There's no art in what I do, no mystique.'
One of the world's most commercially successful authors, MacLean was in fact as Scottish as black bun and The Broons. Born in Glasgow, the son of a Presbyterian minister, he spent his early childhood in the Highlands, near Inverness, speaking Gaelic at home. Intriguingly therefore, MacLean is one of the tiny band of authors on this list for whom English was a second language.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.