Night Without End

Coming on the heels of my favorite Alistair MacLean book, The Secret Ways (also released in 1959), the comparatively straightforward and low-key adventure Night Without End marks a continuation of his peak form. Less complex and ambitious than some of his better-known works, this one follows a generally linear story line focused on a small group of characters. (Outside interlopers play only minor roles throughout most of the book, though they do add some welcome recalculations and tension near the end.) Maybe it's a case of "simple pleasures for simple minds," as my mother used to say, but this story's minimalist approach holds real appeal for me.


Plot keypoints

On a remote patch of icy Greenland, Dr. Peter Mason and his associates are gathering climate data for the International Geophysical Year program. Visitors are nonexistent ... until a passenger jet comes crashing down nearby. A "Gilligan's Island"-ish group of surviving passengers (senator, actress, heiress, reverend, ranked boxer, and several others) are rescued by Mason and company. But when it becomes clear that there are desperate killers among the newcomers, Mason is forced to lead an expedition that will bring everyone to salvation — or disaster.



  • It's nice to have a protagonist who is not a highly trained intelligence agent, but rather a skilled scientist who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.
  • The cast of supporting characters is drawn finely enough that the reader cares about their welfare — and is surprised by some of the twists MacLean throws in.
  • The quieter-than-usual action (without helicopters, bombs, sea chases, etc.) is gripping, as ordinary people are pushed to the edges of human endurance.



  • Without wanting to give anything away, I can say that readers will likely have made good guesses about the villains' identities.
  • Of MacLean's awkwardly formed and unrealistic love stories, this book contains one of the worst; fortunately, that weak link doesn't occupy much of the tale.



Making few demands on the reader, Night Without End still shines in its descriptive prose and its fast-moving storyline. If you're tired of secret agents running around in boats, this might be the MacLean for you.



(9 out of 10)