One of his later works, 1982's Partisans finds Alistair MacLean still in respectable form, though far from his best days. Though it occasionally reads as if he were going through the motions, most of this book features strong prose and action in the classic MacLean mold. Sadly, the loom of plot upon which this tale is woven doesn't live up to his usual standards. (Note: according to the Wikipedia page about this book, it was partly based on the plot from the film Force 10 from Navarone. I have seen no other confirmation of this claim.) Someone who is looking to spend a couple of hours in make-believe adventure land could do worse than Partisans ... but also far better.


Plot keypoints

World wars make strange bedfellows. As WWII rages, several small groups enmeshed in secretive services find themselves sharing a torpedo boat ride from Italy to the Yugoslav coast. They are all working to support the Axis-favored Royalists against the freedom-fighting Partisans ... or are they? Whose secret plans have been leaked, and why has a team of assassins joined them onboard? Even if the boat does reach its destination, what surprises await its passengers during their bitter winter foray into the Balkans? Intelligence agent Peter Petersen and his companions must use all their connections and wiles to solve these mysteries.



  • As I mentioned, much of MacLean's prose is reminiscent of his earlier best efforts. As the reader, you feel as if you know these characters well, and as if you are experiencing the hazards and dilemmas they face. This feature alone makes the book worth your time and attention.



  • Plot and pacing are well below MacLean's usual standard. Most of the book is spent watching the parties reach their destination (having faced typical dangers en route), but the rest of the story is anticlimactic, hardly justifying the long buildup.
  • While the characters' actions usually make sense, what comes out of their mouths is often mediocre. The main good guys always have the unrealistically perfect answer to whatever someone else says; meanwhile, other characters appear goofy. (Some of them bounce back and forth between saying the protagonist is wonderful and flying into petty rages at him. This grows tiresome.)
  • There are a couple of weak and unrealistic stabs at a romantic connection; they merely detract from the story.
  • I found it hard to keep some of their commanders' and adversaries' names straight. After reading about so many majors and generals, and who is on which side of the conflict, and whose secret orders are being followed by whom, I lost much of my interest in seeing what happened to those officers.
  • It's hard to keep writing completely fresh material after so many years, but this book echoes some earlier books too closely. For instance, one of the main good guys is awfully similar to a character from Caravan to Vaccares. Some dialogue is recycled too. Example:

"By heaven, Stefan, I don't care what people say, there's nothing wrong with the young generation." (The Secret Ways)

"By heavens, Major, there's nothing wrong with this new generation of ours." (Partisans)



While not MacLean's worst, Partisans is best recommended to readers who can enjoy his style despite a relative lack of substance.



 (4 out of 10)