by Alistair MacLean
For as long as I’ve been a Flynn and before (so a very, very long time), I’ve heard how this book was a favorite for my late mother-in-law. One of these days I should read this book, I thought to myself, and the years went by and the MIL passed away, and the movie that was based on the book was on, so we watched it.
I was not impressed at all. She liked the book this was based on? I asked the hub, incredulous. This is really boring! The movie is just okay, I was told. The book is a LOT better.
And that turns out to be true. Not the first time the book is better, and not the last (although there have been the rare occasions that the movie is better than the book; Bridget Jones’ Diary comes to mind). I was reminded of a more recent work about espionage and intrigue involving a submarine, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, but the differences between the two works are many (and notable, considering how the political landscape changed between novels). The first that came to mind as I was reading this was style. While both books have elements in common (among others, they are both heavy on the info dumps), you can tell that it’s not just the political situation that’s changed between the books. ICE STATION ZEBRA is heavy on plot and not so much on characterization. Part of this is because it’s told in first person, with the narrator not forthcoming on his actual motives. Part of it is because the reading public isn’t as interested in heavy plotting; otherwise, too much thinking would be involved (I hope I’m being facetious, but we’re living in an age of the dull-witted but very rich Kardashians as the royalty of the boob tube). ZEBRA’s info dump is necessary to understand the workings of the submarine, while I got the impression, certainly after reading this, that a lot of the info dump in RED OCTOBER was for the love of the info dump. Which I can understand; there’s a certain soaring glory in the imparting of information, but a line must be drawn between imparting information that stops the story altogether and information that shoves the story forward. I was grateful for the movie version of RED OCTOBER because all that info dump got condensed into Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery jabbering at each other.
Anyway, ZEBRA is a Cold War story. And it even takes place in the Arctic. It is plot heavy so it must be read carefully, much like a very good mystery, which this is; the characters have motives that may or may not shift or even be duplicitous in the extreme. I can recommend this book, because they really don’t write thrillers like this any more. It was a best-seller in its day, and I can see why. Bring back the heavy plotting, I say!
COMING UP: The Sons of the Profits, and more!