The Guns of Navarone

After making a splash two years earlier with his first novel, HMS Ulysses, Alistair MacLean grabbed an even larger spotlight with 1957's The Guns of Navarone. This epic thriller's international success led to a well-known movie of the same title (in 1961) and a sequel by MacLean, Force 10 from Navarone (in 1968). In a roundabout way, the book even spawned popular music; classic ska band The Skatalites scored a top-ten UK hit in 1967 with Guns of Navarone, a ska version of the movie's theme song.


Plot keypoints

German forces have occupied key Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. On the isle of Navarone, they have set up a pair of huge guns that overlook a key shipping channel. A large Allied unit is in danger on a nearby island, and the rescue operation can only come from ships moving through the channel next to Navarone. Desperate Allied officers assign a team of their most skilled (and deadly) agents to put the guns out of commission. With the help of Greek operatives who may or may not be trustworthy, they set out to perform the impossible.



  • Seldom a dull moment, as the tiny group is faced with seemingly insurmountable dangers at every turn.
  • A nicely varied group of protagonists meshes well while displaying realistic emotions.
  • Exploration of some leading characters and their motivations helps the reader understand and empathize with them.
  • Though the island is mythical, Maclean's WWII experiences in that area, together with his knowledge of both land and sea warfare, give the story depth and believability.



  • While it's nice to have a motivated local on the Allied team, the unstoppable killing machine Andreas is a bit over the top. No weaknesses, no uncertainties, no hope for the bad guys. Just too much of a foregone conclusion. (Contrast him with the similarly strong and capable Sandor from The Secret Ways, who just seems like a regular guy rather than a parody.) His habit of calling the team leader "my Keith" also annoyed me.
  • For that matter, I never cared much for MacLean's habit of turning private citizens with world-champion talents into secret agents. In this book, it's Keith Mallory, the world's greatest mountaineer; other examples that come right to mind include the world's greatest Grand Prix driver (The Way to Dusty Death) and uniquely skilled circus performers (Circus).
  • As believable as the book is in general, there's a disconnect between MacLean's description of the careful, highly trained German troops and the careless mistakes they make that repeatedly enable the good guys to escape certain doom.



You can see why this book became a franchise. Not MacLean's overall best, but enough strengths to overcome its weakest points. Don't start it near your bedtime, or you'll have trouble turning out the light.



(8 out of 10)