by Barbara D'Amato
I was reminded of Alistair MacLean a few weeks ago when the Thrillerwriters put out a query for suggestions for naming their awards after a writer in the field. I doubt that they will name them after MacLean. He’s not remembered much anymore.
Which is a horrible loss to readers. I was reminded of him again last week when Patti Abbott asked me to come up with a novel for her blog Pattinase’s Forgottten Books.
HMS ULYSSES  was the first novel Alistair MacLean wrote, and it’s a remarkable achievement. He had many later successes among twenty-eight novels—The Guns of Navarone, The Satan Bug, Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, Breakheart Pass, Goodbye California, When Eight Bells Toll, and many more. Many were made into movies, but HMS Ulysses remains his very best.
MacLean had served in the Royal Navy from 1941 through the end of the war, as Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman, and Torpedo Operator, and saw action in the north Atlantic, escorting carrier groups in operations against targets in the arctic and off the coast of Norway, later in the Mediterranean for the invasion of France and after that in the Far East, in Burma, Maylaya, and Sumatra. His brother Ian, who contributed data for his books, was a Master Mariner.
HMS Ulysses throbs with authenticity. I read it at least twenty-five years ago and it still produces a deep chill when I think of it. Not an easy book, often grim, always real, it is the tale of a light cruiser, put to sea to guard an important convoy heading for Murmansk. The convoy runs into crisis after crisis--German warships, an arctic storm, attacks from U-boats beneath, and from the Luftwaffe overhead. Slowly thirty-two ships are reduced to five. Then the Ulysses is called on to do the impossible--
As a depiction of the human cost of war, HMS Ulysses has never been surpassed. Critics have ranked it with The Cruel Sea [Monsarrat] and The Caine Mutiny [Wouk], but I think in open-eyed, unsparing truth, as well as sheer suspense, it is superior to both.
This is a good time to be thinking about the cost of war. So my question is—what war novels have made an impact on you?