[Review] ‘High Country’ by Rev. Alistair Maclean

Alistair Maclean was the third son of Reverend Alistair MacLean. While Alistair MacLean became known for this thrillers, his father was known for his fire and brimstone sermons. 47 of those sermons were collected in ‘High Country’.

Rev. MacLean and his family (Alistair MacLean is far right)

Review appeared in ‘The Living Church’  (November 30, 1952):
High Country is a delicate and delightful little book of sermons which tingles with a wholesome Scottish simplicity. The writer strives to imitate the method of our Lord, “who offers His jewels in artistic and delightful settings.” In the series of 47 sermons, dealing with the inner life, we find a beautiful gallery of pictures and a fresh selection of biographical anecdotes.

This book, extremely concrete, offers much to the person who may choose to use it as a manual for meditation. Since the sermons were first written for the author’s “congregation of simple folk”, they enunciate the fundamental truths of Christian inner experience, not in a speculative way, nor in a language about common understanding, but in a manner clear and at once appealing.

The seminarian and young priests learn much about a vigorous style of sermon-structure from this collection.. Here is a great well of fresh illustrated material and a method of preaching which can hardly fail to enliven the pulpit.

Unfortunately, the book cannot be recommended for the use of lay-readers and their work for the church. Naturally, the writer cannot escape his Calvinistic attitudes and he makes many references to Scottish literature which will mean very little to Anglican congregations.

[Movie] Remake of ‘Fear is the Key’ announced

One of the very best novels of Alistair Maclean, ‘Fear is the key’ (1961), will be made into a movie. Again.

After closing a deal to acquire the rights from StudioCanal, Cassian Elwes and Andre Gaines, are producing a remake of the 1972 classic that featured a car chase that ran for twenty minutes. The story, based on a thriller by Alistair MacLean, takes place in Louisiana and follows the character of John Talbot, a ruthless killer. The plot intricately weaves itself around a family that died in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico.

The original movie ‘Fear is the key’ was produced by Elwes’ step-father, Elliott Kastner, who produced the film with former Paramount chief Alan Ladd and Jay Kanter. Kastner had previously produced an adaptation of MacLean’s book ‘Where Eagles Dare’ in 1968, and Fear came about as a result of their relationship. Kastner died in 2010.

“I’ve loved this movie ever since I was a kid,” Elwes said. “It was one of my stepfather’s favorite movies, and my hope is to remake it even better than he did.”

“I’m happy to help Cassian breathe new life into ‘Fear is the Key’,” Gaines said. “The film takes the revenge thriller to the next level, and it is the type of movie you want to watch over and over again.”

Blacklist writer Terrell Garrett is currently writing the screenplay for the remake.

Alastair MacNeill Resurfaces

What happens if you disturb a nest of hornets? Well, you might get stung. Repeatedly.

No so very long ago I wrote here about Alastair MacNeill:

The entire author profile smells fishy, the submitted manuscript that started his career was never published and I’m wondering why Alastair MacNeill hasn’t written a novel since 2000 when one reads that he came to Britain to ‘pursue a career in writing’.

His agent at Christopher Little claims (personal communication, June 7, 2013) that ‘Alastair MacNeill has not permanently retired from writing, but he does not have any work that is due to be published in the near future either’ and – rather cryptically – that ‘He has not written anything under a pseudonym’. Which is technically true if Alastair MacNeill is itself a pseudonym.

Curiously, shorty after I had contact with his agents, MacNeill’s profile on their website changed. It now claims that Alastair MacNeill ‘has now moved back to live in South Africa’.

And now, out of the blue, a new novel (could one say ‘a novel novel’?) has been published under the name Alastair MacNeill. ‘Facades‘ has been released in June, 2015 and tells us ‘Author of Double Blind’.

But the most interesting feature is that ‘Facade’ has only been issued as an e-book. Which is odd because Alastair MacNeill supposedly wrote a number of books that met with reasonabe commercial success.

So, according to his agents, Alastair MacNeill has returned to South-Africa and – two years ago – had not any work that was due to be published in the near future. Then ‘Facades‘ is available via Amazon.co.uk. No publicity has been generated by his agents and what does a writer these days do to create his own publicity? He turns to social media and posts glowing reviews and news on Twitter and Facebook. Not Alastair MacNeill. He is curiously absent from social media.

Which begs the question again: is the pseudonym Alastair MacNeill again used by another unknown writer from the clientlist Christopher Little?

Simon Gandolfi and His MacLones

After writing here about The Mysteries of the MacLones, I was contacted by Simon Gandolfi, writer of five (or three) novels that were based on an script for a movie or television series in the 1970s.
Simon Gandolfi wrote: ‘Yes, I wrote five books featuring Trent. The publishers gave me a rough film treatment by MacLean featuring a protagonist living on a converted tug boat,action taking place off the UK coast. I returned the treatment as unusable. The publishers then mislaid it!

This first few sentences contain a very interesting piece of information: there appears to be an unused (or underused) rough film script, written by MacLean featuring a protagonist living on a converted tug boat and the action is situated off the UK coast. Which means a new writer can be contracted to write entirely new thriller based on Alistair MacLean’s imagination.

The protagonist, Trent, and the Caribbean, Central American and Asian story lines were entirely my creation. No reference to these books has been removed (carefully or otherwise) from my site or web blog,’ writes Simon Gandolfi. Still, no mention of these thrillers remain on his site or web blog.

The MacLean Estate did not buy back the film rights – or, if they did, I was never informed and am anxious to know what proof you have as a percentage of film rights were part of my contracts; I stopped writing Trent on discovering the doubts concerning the film rights; Chris Little was the agent.’ I personally have no idea nor proof or information about any percentage of film rights. In my view, Simon Galdolfi should simply contact the estate of Alistair MacLean to get clarification. If the doubts about the potential film rights could be resolved, Simon Gandolfi might even be tempted to write another novel featuring Trent.

Shona Maclean: The Seeker

Shona Maclean, the niece of Alistair MacLean, has written four books about Alexander Seaton, a disgraced minister turned teacher who is caught up in the political and religious turmoil of Scotland in the early 17th century.


Her next novel will be called ‘The Seeker’ and features a new protagonist called Damian Seeker.

The blurb:
No one knows where Damian Seeker originated from, who his family is, or even his real name. Mothers frighten their children by telling them tales of The Seeker. All that is known of him for certain is that he is utterly loyal to Cromwell, and that nothing can be long hidden from him.


In the new, fashionable coffee houses of London, a murder takes place. All London is ringing with the news that John Winter is dead, the lawyer Elias Ellingworth, found holding a knife over the bleeding body of the dying man, held in the Tower.


Despite the damning evidence, Seeker is not convinced of Ellingworth’s guilt. He will stop at nothing to bring the right man to justice…


The plan is to release the novel during February, 2015. It’s going to be a long wait.

HMS Ulysses vs. The Cruel Sea

When ‘The Cruel Sea’, written by Nicholas Montsarrat, was published in 1951 it was an immediate success. One of the first reviews of Alistair MacLean’s debut ‘HMS Ulysses’ (1955) described the book as “the worst insult to the Royal Navy ever published”. That certainly alerted people and the novel soon topped the world’s bestseller lists. In other reviews ‘HMS Ulysses’ and ‘The Cruel Sea’ were compared and most reviewers agreed that both novels were equally disturbing in their portraying of the horrors of the battle of the North Atlantic.

What did Alistair MacLean write to deserve such a scalding review? ‘HMS Ulysses’ is certainly not a glamorous story about heroism but about unrelenting stress, hardship, exhaustion and extreme weather conditions that took a heavy physical and psychological toll on the crew of HMS Ulysses.

These factors lead to a mutiny on the previous trip of HMS Ulysses and the admiralty, staffed by officers that remain safely ashore, decided that ship and crew should be given the one chance to redeem themselves. They were ordered to escort a Murmansk-bound convoy, and if necessary, to act as bait for the Tirpitz that was at the time holed up in a Norwegian fjord. In MacLean’s book the real enemy is not the Germans, but the horrendous conditions in the Arctic.

‘The Cruel Sea’ by Nicholas Monsarrat is also a novel that does not portray the good and the bad as white and black but both sides of the conflict are painted in shades of grey. The book, like ‘HMS Ulysses’, focuses on the crew of a woefully inadequate corvette the ‘Compass Rose’ on duty in the icy North Atlantic to protect convoys. Monsarrat’s tale revolves too around the hardship the crew must endure continuously simply to survive. But it also makes abundantly clear the tough decisions those in command of such a vessel must make while carrying out their duties.

So, which one is the better novel? The answer to that question is a personal one and I would not want to cast doubt on the heroism of these brave sailors. I think these books have so much in common that they should be seen as a testament to that intensely cruel period that many already seem to have forgotten.

The Novels (written by others)

[01] 1980 Hostage Tower [by John Denis | UNACO-01]

[02] 1981 Air Force One is Down [by John Denis | UNACO-02]

[03] 1989 Death Train [by Alastair MacNeill | UNACO-03]

[04] 1989 Night Watch [by Alastair MacNeill | UNACO-04]

[05] 1990 Red Alert [by Alastair MacNeill | UNACO-05]

[06] 1991 Time of the Assassins [by Alastair MacNeill | UNACO-06]

[07] 1992 Golden Girl [by Simon Gandolfi | Golden Girl-01]

[08] 1992 Dead Halt [by Alastair MacNeill | UNACO-07]

[09] 1993 Golden Web [by Simon Gandolfi | Golden Girl-02]

[10] 1993 Code Breaker [by Alastair MacNeill | UNACO-08]

[11] 1994 Golden Vengeance [Simon Gandolfi | Golden Girl-03]

[12] 1995 Rendezvous [by Alastair MacNeill]

[13] 1997 Prime Target [by Hugh Miller | UNACO-09]

[14] 1997 Storm Force Navarone [by Sam Llewellyn]

[15] 1998 Borrowed Time [by Hugh Miller | UNACO-10]

[16] 1999 Thunderbolt from Navarone [Sam Llewellyn]

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