Floodgate, published in 1983 (near the end of Alistair MacLean's career), presents
interesting contrasts. MacLean's familiar prose stylings are in pretty good form, and the way the
book opens at the scene of a disaster is reminiscent of the start of The Way to Dusty
Death. I was intrigued when I recently began reading this book for the first time, as the early sections
read like classic MacLean. However, it gradually became clear that his plotting instincts had largely deserted him
by this point. The farther I read, the less believable I found the conflict between the seemingly unstoppable bad
guys and the infinitely cunning and resourceful heroes. In fact, "conflict" is a misstatement — the two sides never
really engaged each other in the ways a MacLean reader would expect. The baddies went about their evil business,
the goodies made clever and wry statements and downed a variety of spirits, and when I thought we had finally
reached the climactic clash, everything just ... sort ... of ... fizzled.
Low-lying nations such as The Netherlands rely on massive systems of dikes to keep deadly waters at bay.
Hence, the citizens' welfare rests on their government's ability to ward off threats to those dikes. The Dutch
government is at a loss, though, in handling the mysterious F.F.F. group, which repeatedly shows that it can
blow up key dikes with impunity. It looks as if the Dutch and British are powerless to resist the terrorists'
demands — unless Amsterdam police lieutenant Peter Van Effen's team of experts can penetrate and disarm the F.F.F.
before it unleashes a killer flood.
- The prose is both admirable and familiar, though some of MacLean's typical themes are overdone.
- The plot meanders and chases its tail and then doesn't deliver at the key moment. Instead of a typical
story where good and bad guys are aware of each other and have unpleasant/violent interplay at various points,
this one offers an almost purely psychological buildup that isn't satisfyingly resolved. As Gertrude Stein said
about Oakland, "There's no there there."
- As occasionally happens in MacLean's works, the evildoers are superhumanly clever and capable, and the
heroes are so smart that they understand (and professionally admire) every action and motivation of the
villains. Fallible flesh-and-blood characters would ring truer. One glaring exception is that when several
different organizations suddenly start committing awful acts on a large scale, the brilliant policemen don't
seem to consider that these groups could be related to each other. Weird.
- Another in a long line of weak romantic subplots doesn't help matters.
- Perhaps I'm too parochial, but there were so many "Von" and "Van" names that I kept having to refer back to
earlier passages to keep the characters straight.
- The protagonists subsist almost entirely on, and are fairly obsessed by, stiff drinks.
At first, I thought I'd stumbled on a treasure ... but Floodgate turned out to be fool's gold.
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