Goodbye California 

I found 1977's Goodbye California a strange hybrid of MacLean's best and worst, his past and future. It features the familiar theme of a cunning protagonist trying to disrupt the evil machinations of a brilliant, amoral villain who threatens to wreak unfathomable devastation. Readers can follow the good guy as he (along with relatives and colleagues) works to unravel the conspiracy, thread by thread, link by link. However, character development seldom surpasses the level of simple stereotype, and much of the action is more sensationalistic than realistic. This book also foreshadows some of his later works. Like San Andreas, it begins with a professorial lecture about a real topic that is fictionalized in the book (earthquakes in this case, life in the British Navy during WWII in San Andreas). And as in Floodgate (regrettably), a long tale of intrigue and danger finally reaches the concluding confrontation and then simply fizzles out.


Plot keypoints

When Detective Sergeant Ryder's wife is kidnapped along with nuclear scientists from the California power station where they all work, he sets out to find her, and to figure out why other eminent nuclear scientists have also been disappearing. Facing resistance and danger from external forces as well as within his own police department, he leaves his job and begins taking the law into his own hands. His son Jeff, a highway patrolman, and a few other trusted compatriots join him in desperate measures to root out corruption in high places and to track down the terrorists who are threatening to use nuclear weapons to unleash an Armageddon-level earthquake.



  • MacLean's prose is allowed to unwind in a fairly unconstrained way, as shown by the sheer length of Goodbye California. While the two books directly before it (The Golden Gate and Seawitch) and the one right after it (Athabasca) are oddly consistent, coming in at 284-286 pages each in the paperback editions I own, this one stretches to 315; that extra 11% or so really makes it feel like a more substantial read.
  • He includes enough factual information to make the threat seem all too believable.



  • Ryder's brutality toward corrupt officials, and his impertinence toward anyone else who questions his methods, make his character both unsympathetic and unrealistic.
  • Some of the other characters — a police chief with whom he clashes, one of the captive scientists — repeatedly behave in hot-tempered ways that seem drawn from a B movie.
  • Events that are connected, or suspected to be connected, to the evildoers' plot get so convoluted that I'm still not sure whether they were all interwoven or whether some were just red herrings.
  • After such a long buildup, and so much anticipation, the final showdown with the main bad guys is all too brief and thoroughly unsatisfying.


As with many of MacLean's later books, my thoughts while reading it went something like this: "Hey, this isn't so bad, it's really kind of interesting ... OK, actually it's not all that good ... Come on, get to the point already ... Huh? It ends like that? What a letdown."



 (5 out of 10)