Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair MacLean

 
published 1962
 
 
Golden Rendezvous 3
Golden Rendezvous 4Golden Rendezvous 5

 

[John Carter is supervising as the SS Campari is being loaded ready to depart from a tropical port]

My shirt was no longer a shirt but just a limp and sticky rag soaked with sweat. My feet ached from the fierce heat of the steel deck plates. My forehead, under the peaked cap, ached from the ever-increasing constriction of the leather band that made scalping only a matter of time…

I was unhappy. The crew were unhappy. The passengers were unhappy. Captain Bullen was unhappy and this last made me doubly unhappy because when things went wrong with Captain Bullen he invariably took it out on his chief officer. I was his chief officer.


 
Golden Rendezvous 2

[a few days into the voyage, one of the passengers hosts a cocktail party]

As far as attendance went, Mr Julius Beresford had no grounds for complaint that night: every single passenger on the ship had turned up for his wife’s cocktail party and, as far as I could see, every off-duty officer on the Campari was there as well. And the party was certainly going splendidly.

 
commentary: This was one of my favourite thrillers when I was a teenager, and I wondered how it would stand up to a much later reading. I read all Alistair MacLean’s books back then, from the more serious war books – HMS Ulysses and The Guns of Navarone – right through to the 60s thrillers with exotic settings (Ice Station Zebra gives away its location in the title). I remembered tall humorous heroes, feisty give-it-a-go heroines, and very trusty solid Scottish Highlanders as sidekicks.

Well all those features turned up in this one, and I absolutely loved it. John Carter is Chief Officer on a cargo boat which also takes incredibly rich passengers on a very upmarket cruise. Things start going wrong as they travel round the Caribbean – crew members are disappearing, and who ARE those new passengers? It get worse and worse and eventually the ship is in the hands of the bad guys. But our narrator is a good-man-in-a-fix, and a rather complex set of adventures follows, involving gold, nuclear weapons and disappearing scientists.

It was a very imaginative (and preposterous) plot but what I really enjoyed was Carter’s deadpan narration. He was self-deprecating (although other people mentioned how wonderful he was just in case we’d missed the point), and very very funny. 

The captain is the stock blunt man who hates the passengers, but MacLean makes that very entertaining. And there is an even better running joke about the ship’s doctor, Marston, a courtly, aristocratic drinker, and the dangers of being treated by him – I laughed immoderately at the endless remarks about his inadequacies. Then it turns out the doctor is very good at lying to the villains – Carter says Marston was a born actor and if only he’d taken it up, ‘the gain to both the thespian and medical world would have been incalculable.’

Meanwhile – the feisty young woman lends Johnny a black cocktail dress:Golden Rendezvous
I looked at the label. Balenciaga. Should make a fair enough mask. I caught the hem of the dress between my hands, glanced at her, saw the nod and ripped, a dollar a stitch.
He needs dark clothes and a mask and hood to escape notice as he ventures round the ship fighting evil. Because she is made from the right stuff, she says
“Tear off a piece for me while you’re at it… I’m coming with you.”
I was surprised by how much I remembered of the book after such a long gap, but a lot of the plot turns and the clever lines were familiar. At one point Carter is (wrongly – need I say) thought to have helped the enemy too much. As his friends lay into him, he says:
“It’s all right for all of you to talk. You’ve all got families. I’ve only got myself. Can you blame me for wanting to look after all I have?” No one took me up on this masterpiece of logical reasoning.
I thought this was excellent when I was 15, and I still do.

The book has a strange resemblance to Doctor at Sea, the Dirk Bogarde/James Robertson Justice comic masterpiece - it’s the thriller version, with the same cast of characters.

Some of those characters are wasted here – the blonde filmstar, Miss Harcourt, scarcely appears, and neither does her almost-namesake (had MacLean run out of names and just put his head in his hands and typed something?), cosmetics diva Miss Harrbride. But no complaints – this is splendid stuff, and makes me think I should revisit more of the author.

The Balenciaga black cocktail dress is from Kristine’s photostream.

All the ship pictures are from the Australian Maritime Museum collection, all taken by Gervais Purcell. The group of women passengers and the men looking at the ship are, weirdly, both actually connected with fitting TV on board ships. But I thought their concentration and focus would do nicely for a thriller plot. The other pictures show passengers boarding a ship of the time.
























21 comments:

  1. Oh, Moira, I haven't thought of MacLean in a long time! And I couldn't agree more about his deadpan style; he did that so very well, and it livened up his novels. I admit I've not read this particular novel, but it sounds like one of MacLean's stronger outings.

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    1. Definitely a goody. I hadn't thought of him or read of him for years, but I was so glad that I enjoyed it as much as ever.

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  2. "What I really enjoyed was Carter’s deadpan narration" Almost Wodehousean at times. Must reread. The first-person narration made the books (and the thrilling yarns). Plot No. 94: One by one the passengers/guests/staff are replaced. (Or "Mr Smith is in charge now".)

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    1. Really good low-level jokes, wisecracking I suppose you might call it. And the occasional clever slipped-in clue. Now I want to read more...

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  3. Oh, yes, loved these too as a teenager - and I think I could enjoy this one now.

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    1. I'm loving the fact that so many of us loved them as teenagers!

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  4. I've been re-reading a lot of MacLean's novels lately and I've also been surprised by how well they stand up. GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS is in my to-be-read pile right now.

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    1. Come back and tell me when you've read it. Yes, very impressed by how they have survived.

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    2. Yes, very impressed by how they have survived.

      The period from about 1945 to about 1975 was a wonderful golden age of British thriller writers. I think those writers don't get as much respect as they deserve because people assume they're all going to be in the Ian Fleming sex-and-violence style. Not that I have anything against Fleming but he's not to everyone's taste.

      But writers like MacLean and Desmond Bagley and Gavin Lyall were in a totally different mould. Not much sex and relatively restrained in the violence department. Action and excitement rather than graphic violence - basically good old-fashioned thrills.

      Bagley wasn't as strong as the other two on plotting but Gavin Lyall was every bit as good as MacLean.

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    3. More for me to try! I did read one or two books by them years ago, but now am curious. And I have also been rediscovering Victor Canning, who is wonderful too.

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    4. And I have also been rediscovering Victor Canning, who is wonderful too.

      I've never read Victor Canning. I'll have to add him to my shopping list. Do you have any particular recommendations?

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    5. The Rainbird Pattern by Canning is one of the best books I have read this year... I absolutely loved it.

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    6. I've now ordered one of Canning's books. I found a copy of PANTHER'S MOON that was fairly cheap. I'll keep a lookout for THE RAINBIRD PATTERN as well. I'm always looking for good thriller writers!

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    7. Look forward to hearing what you make of it - I haven't read that one.

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  5. As I started reading this post, I wondered how you had picked this book. I haven't heard of it at all. And then you explained. I hardly remember individual books I have read, only authors if I read a lot of their books. This one sounds good and different. I will have to see if I have a copy.

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    1. This one stuck in my mind all those years. But I will tell you something I haven't mentioned to date: I DREAMT about it, I have no idea why, and when I woke up I realized I had somehow got it into my mind - and so I thought I should read it. It is the only one of his that I actually possess - I used to get them out of the library or borrow from people, but this one I loved so much I got my own copy many many years ago...

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  6. On the strength of your recommendation I picked this book of my bookshelf and started to read. Really enjoying it! Like a lot of people here I read Maclean during my teenage years and then sort of forgot about him. About two years ago I found my old stash of his books and decided to try some that I had never read and some that I had. He really was an excellent thriller writer. ICE STATION ZEBRA ends practically every chapter with either a cliff-hanger or a new twist, rather like FEAR IS THE KEY, but both have a quite distinct feel and mood. I was surprised at the level of humour in WHERE EAGLES DARE, but Maclean's dry wit adds another level to the proceedings, and gives the characters an added sense of reality. I've taken to rationing them so that I don't run out of the books too soon!

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    1. ICE STATION ZEBRA is a particular favourite of fine, although NIGHT WITHOUT END is my asolute favourite.

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    2. I remember being very disappointed by the film of Where Eagles Dare, which I reckoned had removed all the humour. Don't know Night Without End, must go and look it up.

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    3. I remember being very disappointed by the film of Where Eagles Dare, which I reckoned had removed all the humour.

      There is a possible explanation for that. Apparently Clint Eastwood eliminated about half of his own lines from the film. He just went through the script and crossed it all out. Not that he thought the script was bad - he just doesn't believe dialogue is necessary!

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    4. That makes perfect sense! I can clearly remember watching it in and thinking, over and over, 'but after he says that, the reply is ---' and it didn't come. I think it was a loss, but still, it is a rare actor who actually reduces his lines.

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