What it’s about
A team of British Special Forces commandos parachutes into the high peaks of the Austrian Alps on a rescue mission, the chief planner of the Western front has been taken prisoner. To save the war effort they must free him, but he is being held in an invulnerable alpine castle, accessible only by aerial gondola, which just so happens to be the headquarters of Nazi intelligence.
Despite popular belief this is not based on a true story, and is entirely fictional. With that out of the way this is arguably Alistair MacLean’s best novel, most people probably better know it as the film which stars a young Clint Eastwood along with the legendary Richard Burton.
In regards to which is better, both are equally brilliant, but there are some minor deviations the biggest perhaps being that in the book there is much less violence.
Also the characters in the book are a little bit more humorous, you also get a far greater sense of place in the book, along with the claustrophobic feeling of truly being inside the headquarters of Nazi intelligence. But perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that the stakes even though they are near enough the same feel in the book just so much bigger.
What the book really succeeds at is making you really buy into just how big the stakes are, and how if this mission fails it could truly mess up the planned invasion on the Western front i.e. D-Day.
But outside that really the big differences are what you would normally expect to get from a book versus a film. For example, in the film the stakes are high but the characters always seem to be ahead of the game, while in the book you really get a sense for just how desperate this mission is. Pretty much all throughout you also get the feeling that actually they might not succeed, which you don’t really get in the film i.e. Richard Burton’s character always seems like he is going to succeed.
So in the book you are just much closer to the characters and action and they feel more like real people rather than action stars.
But the film is great, and the book is great which means all in all I don’t really have a great deal to say other than this is a brilliant read, highly entertaining, simple English and written in a way that means it is highly improbable that you will need to reread any sections to make sense of what is going on.
That means from me this book gets a solid thumbs up, and is a highly entertaining World War II rescue story.
Writer: Alistair Maclean
Genre: war story, action, adventure