Caravan to Vaccares

Written within MacLean's period of peak skill, 1970's Caravan to Vaccares ranks among his most satisfying works. He mixes espionage, danger, intrigue, a few dabs of romance, and plenty of "local color," producing a page-turner that frequently rewards the reader with both psychological wit-matching and physical action. This is one of the few Alistair MacLean books I have re-read several times over the years.


Plot keypoints

As a caravan of gypsies heads for the annual festival at Saintes-Maries, in southern France, some other interested parties follow along. The flamboyant Duc de Croytor is researching a book about gypsy customs — or so he claims. Meanwhile, Neil Bowman, a British agent, has his own reasons for staying close to the caravan. What secrets are the gypsies hiding from the outside world? How many governments would be interested in some of the other inhabitants of that caravan?



  • Action and more action!
  • One of MacLean's better ruthless-yet-sardonic protagonists, tossing off bons mot as he unravels the baddies' schemes.
  • Good twists: help from unexpected sources.
  • A great bullfighting scene, with far more psychological terror than animal cruelty.
  • Ancillary characters — the Duc and the ladies — enhance the tale, lifting it above a more typical solitary-agent-as-hero plotline.



  • Any successful thriller requires some suspension of disbelief. However, in this case, the protagonists' survival is almost literally unbelievable. Lots of good fortune and several doses of fantastically poor judgment by the bad guys.
  • Reflects poorly (and stereotypically) on gypsy culture (though not nearly as poorly as some of his earlier books reflect on Japanese people).
  • A few of the scenes involving Bowman's object of affection are a bit overdone — young women would be unlikely to act in some of those ways. (At least the ones I know!)



A ripping good read, as they say. Never dull, and it will slake your thirst for adventure and heart-pounding suspense, while adding a dab of humorous and tender moments.



(8 out of 10)