Partisans Hardcover – Jan 1983
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'A magnificent storyteller' Sunday Mirror
‘The most successful British novelist of his time’ Jack Higgins
‘Alistar MacLean is one of the few people writing today who has a story to tell.’ Daily Express--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Alistair MacLean, the son of a Scots minister, was brought up in the Scottish Highlands. In 1941 he joined the Royal Navy. After the war he read English at Glasgow University and became a schoolmaster. The two and a half years he spent aboard a wartime cruiser were to give him the background for HMS Ulysses, his remarkably successful first novel, published in 1955. He is now recognized as one of the outstanding popular writers of the 20th century, the author of 29 worldwide bestsellers, many of which have been filmed.
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Top Customer Reviews
I picked up the Norwegian translation ("Partisaner") of "Partisans" cheaply in Trondheim in 1985 because I thought it might be easy, but my vocabulary at that time was inadequate for a novel, so I strained over the first 15 pages and then gave up. I read the first few pages again last night, and was amazed that I had marked a few sentences: in response to why the Scandinavian name "Petersen" (the name of the hero) is found in Jugoslavia, Petersen responds to the German officer in Rome that that can't be regarded as unusual, that there is, e.g., a village in the Italian Alps where the rest of a Scottish regiment landed in the Middle Ages, and where every second name starts with "Mac". What's funny is that I forgot that I had read this, but in 1/1988, with my then German girlfriend, we visited that village! It's named Gurro, lies in Val Canobino above Cannobio on Lago Maggiorre. They have a Scottish museum, and many of the men have red hair and faces. I didn't ask about surnames, though, although we returned to the village (an extremely stately mountain village half in ruin in 1988) and hiked in the region in 1995. Much more interesting is that this is a region where the old women still wear local costumes and use the kraxe (a wooden back-rack) for transport in daily life. There is only one hotel in the entire valley, which is not a valley at all but is more of a canyon. PS It's not a good translation, I still have trouble with it.
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During World War II, a Yugoslavian agent under apparent German command takes a team of compatriots deep into his native country, where Italian, German, and their Cetnik "allies" watch each other as suspiciously as they do their Partisans foes. The agent, Petersen, has a message to deliver, though what that message is and who he has to deliver it to is a mystery.
What makes "Partisans" enjoyable is the leisurely way it begins, with much circuitous banter and some dark doings on darkened city streets and aboard an Italian torpedo boat. You know Petersen can't be working for the Nazis, but what about those with him? Who can he trust? Who can we trust? One settles in expecting a variant of the commando tales MacLean famously presented in such books as "The Guns Of Navarone" and "Where Eagles Dare," though laced with a welcome sardonic edge courtesy of Petersen.
Agreeing an attempted assassination against them was committed by amateurs, Petersen adds: "But the effect of an amateur bullet can be just as permanent as a professional one."
Or take his impression of an Italian officer he meets: "He's reasonable, personable, smiling, open-faced, has a firm handshake and looks you straight in the eye - anyone can tell at once that he's a member of the criminal classes."
As the novel goes on, you begin to realize it isn't going anywhere, that the banter is all you will get. The plot advances only because Petersen and his group keep getting captured by various forces who then leave them unharmed, which Petersen explains is part of his mysterious plan. A rotund pal drinks alcohol by the quart, while another keeps a strange, surly silence. A couple of women along for the trip call Petersen a "monster," then break into tears over such things as having to ride a pony over a mountain.
More annoyingly, one never is able to work out what Petersen is up to until the end of the novel, at which point he explains it all to you and his comrades in such a roundabout way none of it makes much sense.
Maybe he was having a poke at the au currant thrillers of the time. When "Partisans" was published in 1983, MacLean was struggling with a form of novel he helped popularize but which had been picked up by more sophisticated writers like Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follett, who jammed labyrinthine storylines into books twice as large as MacLean's. Of course, MacLean's simpler stories could be quite wonderful, too, but here we are handed a plot so convoluted no one could understand it. Even the flap jacket for the original hardcover describes a story with little resemblance to what's in the book.
That's a shame, because "Partisans" has the makings of a good tale, with interesting characters and a charged background of multiple, conflicting loyalties running riot in an exotic locale. MacLean throws a lot of plates in the air, and you wonder how he is going to get them all down. Then he surprises you by letting them crash to the floor.
All the usual late-career Maclean flaws are here. The impossibly brave and capable hero Peter Petersen, the "heroines" who are actually utterly clueless damsels in distress, the clumsily handled "no-one is really who they seem" plot twists. Despite being set in wartime Yugoslavia, the book is very talky and slow moving, with almost no action at all. In fact, very little of interest happens at all throughout the book, it's mostly the characters trading one-liners and complaining about being left in the dark by Petersen. There's certainly no sense of the bigger picture of the fate of Yugoslavia and the progress of the war itself.
'Partisans' is not a "bad" book in the way 'Goodbye California' was, and it's readable enough. But it's nowhere near what Maclean was capable of, and will be a huge disappointment to fans of his early work. Newcomers should stick to his 50's and 60's stuff, and leave this one alone.