The Way to Dusty Death
When I was a kid, 1973's The Way to Dusty Death was one of my favorite Alistair MacLean books. This was
partly due to my older brother's influence; a huge auto racing fan, he followed and mythologized the Grand Prix
racing circuit that forms this book's core. My liking for it was also probably age-based, though, as a rereading
many years later shows it to be "Alistair MacLean for 13-year-old boys." That's not necessarily a criticism; it's
more of a pointer toward the audience best suited to this book.
Johnny Harlow, fantastically skilled Grand Prix champion, is suddenly losing his nerve — and his sobriety. His
friends and enemies alike watch Johnny submerge himself in a morass of scotch, shaky behavior, and dangerous —
even deadly — crashes. Meanwhile, a pall also hangs over his Coronado racing team for another reason: the
disappearance of the owner's wife. What connection could there be between a kidnapping and a driver's downward
spiral? And will the owner's daughter, the beautiful Mary, lose hope in her mother's return, or faith in her
- If you like auto racing, you'll enjoy some of the scenes and references to the Grand Prix circuit.
- As with a turbocharged engine, once the action starts, it revs along at high RPMs.
- He adds some interesting looks at family dynamics, among the owner, his daughter, and her
- The best MacLeans are subtle, nuanced, psychological thrillers. This one works in broad, almost cartoonish
brush strokes. The characters are largely stereotyped, and the plot is occasionally clumsy and generally
- It takes the good-vs.-bad action a long time to start; nearly half the book is spent just documenting
Harlow's dissolution. Only a patient reader will hang in long enough to reach the meat of the story.
- Not to give too much away, but Johnny Harlow is that worst type of Alistair MacLean protagonist:
the man of superhuman talents, fantastic ability to anticipate events, and nearly infallible judgment.
Would the world's greatest driver transform himself into James Bond (except more so)? This strained my
- Characters are forever invoking the Deity and questioning others' sanity. (Sample quote from a bad guy:
"God's sake, Harlow, are you mad?") I doubt that high-level criminals (or good guys, for that matter) go around
frequently spouting those sorts of phrases.
If you're an adolescent boy, you'll probably enjoy the vroom-vroom and bang-bang and smack!-oof! nature of this
book. Adults can find Alistair MacLean books that better fit their intellectual desires.
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