FORGOTTEN BOOKS: THE GUNS OF NAVARONE!
In 1990 the British Crime Writers' Association placed The Guns of Navarone 89th on its The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list, which is somewhat odd because it isn’t a crime novel at all. In reality, it is one of the greatest WWII, high adventure, novels of all time. It is also the book, which when I was eight years old, hooked me into a lifelong reading habit.
MacLean has been out of fashion for years, especially as his later works had little of the impact generated by his early novels. However, the film adaptation of The Guns Of Navarone was brilliant, becoming iconic over time. I feel it is one of the best book to movie transitions ever, and as a result, most people are at least familiar with the title.
The plot is simple – an Allied commando team is sent to destroy the powerful guns in an impregnable German fortress overlooking the Aegean Sea. The guns have wreaked havoc with Allied naval ships and are preventing over 2,000 isolated British soldiers from being rescued. While Navarone is fictional, the action is based on the real events surrounding the Battle of Leros in World War II.
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE
An entire navy had tried to silence the guns of Navarone and failed. Full-scale attacks had been driven back. Now they were sending in just five men, each one a specialist in dealing death.
In The Guns of Navarone, MacLean began his magic formula of strong characterization played against violent action, environmental dangers, and betrayal, which would come to be a staple of his best works. The three principal characters in The Guns Of Navarone – New Zealand mountaineer-turned-commando Keith Mallory, American demolitions expert "Dusty" Miller, and Greek resistance fighter Andrea Stavros – are among the most fully drawn in all of MacLean's work, and the only ones who deserved a sequel (Force 10 From Navarone) and later resurrection by British author Sam Llewellyn (Storm Force From Navarone).
While I classed the film as brilliant, the book is even better – incredibly suspenseful and excellently told. The scenes involving MacLean’s small team of specialists, making their way to the cliffs protecting the Navarone guns, and then scaling their heights, are among the most riveting and thrilling to ever be put on the page. I become breathless even reading them again and knowing how it all comes out.
Along with Where Eagles Dare, The Guns Of Navarone is MacLean at the height of his powers. If you only know the Navarone of the films, you’ll find much more to enjoy at the source.