Alistair Stuart MacLean (April 21, 1922 - February 2, 1987) was a Scottish novelist, writer of successful thrillers or adventures, the best known of which is perhaps The Guns of Navarone. He also used the pseudonym Ian Stuart.
MacLean was the son of a minister, and learnt English as his second language after his mother tongue Scottish Gaelic. He was born in Glasgow but spent much of his childhood and youth in Daviot, near Inverness. He joined the Royal Navy in 1941, serving in World War II as a torpedo man and being captured by the Japanese and tortured. After the war, he studied English in the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1953, and then worked as a teacher.
While in the University, MacLean began writing short stories for extra income and won a competition in 1954 with the maritime story Dileas. The publishing company Collins asked him for a novel and he responded with H.M.S. Ulysses, based on his own war experiences. It was a great success and MacLean was soon able to devote himself entirely to writing war stories, spy stories and other adventures.
In the early 1960s, MacLean published two novels under the pseudonym "Ian Stuart" in order to prove that the popularity of his books was due to their content rather than to his name on the cover. They sold well, but one must remember that MacLean made no attempt to change his style and his fans may easily have recognized him behind the Scottish pseudonym. MacLean's books eventually sold so well that he had to move to Switzerland as a tax exile. He also ran hotel business in England.
MacLean's later books were not as well received as the earlier ones and, in an attempt to keep his stories in keeping with the time, he sometimes lapsed into overly improbable plots. He also struggled constantly with alcoholism which eventually brought about his death in Munich in 1987. He was married twice and had three sons with his first wife.
Style of writing
Compared to other thriller writers of the time, such as Ian Fleming, MacLean's books are exceptional in one way at least: they are short of sex and romance because MacLean thought that such diversions merely serve to slow down the action. Indeed he lets little to hinder the flow of events in his books, making his heroes fight against seemingly unbeatable odds and often pushing them to the limits of their physical and mental endurance. MacLean's heroes are usually calm, cynical men entirely devoted to their work and often carrying some kind of secret knowledge. A characteristic twist is that one of the hero's closest cooperators turns out a traitor.
Nature, especially the sea and the arctic north, plays an important part in MacLean's stories, and he used a variety of exotic parts of the world as settings to his books. Only one of them, When Eight Bells Toll, is set in his native Scotland. MacLean's best books are probably those in which he was able to make use of his own direct knowledge of warfare and seafare such as H.M.S. Ulysses which is now considered a classic of naval fiction.
MacLean published 28 novels and a collection of short stories, as well as books about T. E. Lawrence and James Cook. He also wrote screenplays, some of them based on his novels and others later novelized by other writers. Around 1980, he was commissioned by an American movie production company to write a series of story outlines to be subsequently produced as movies. Although he did write about a fictitious UN organisation, the books were later completed by others. Chief among these is the "Hostage Tower" by Alistair Macnell. Alistair Maclean was awarded a Doctorate of Literature at the University of Glasgow in 1983.
List of works
H.M.S. Ulysses (1955)
The Guns of Navarone (1957)
South by Java Head (1957)
The Last Frontier, in the USA The Secret Ways (1959)
Night without End (1960)
Fear Is the Key (1961)
The Dark Crusader, in the USA The Black Shrike (as Ian Stuart, 1961)
The Golden Rendezvous, in the USA Nuclear Terror (1962)
The Satan Bug (as Ian Stuart, 1962)
Ice Station Zebra (1963)
When Eight Bells Toll (1966)
Where Eagles Dare (1967)
Force 10 from Navarone (1968)
Puppet on a Chain (1969)
Caravan to Vaccarès (1970)
Bear Island (1971)
The Way to Dusty Death (1973)
Breakheart Pass (1974)
The Golden Gate (1976)
Goodbye California (1978)
River of Death (1981)
San Andreas (1984)
Collection of short stories
The Lonely Sea (1985)
All about Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Alistair MacLean Introduces Scotland (1972)
Captain Cook (1972)