Twelve hundred British soldiers are isolated and waiting to die on the small island of Kheros, off the Turkish coast. Their lives can be saved if only the long-range, large-caliber, and catastrophically accurate guns of Navarone are silenced before the British Royal Navy arrives.
Manned by a mixed garrison of Germans and Italians, Navarone is a grim iron fortress perched high atop an island ringed by cliffs. Captain Keith Mallory and his small, handpicked team of saboteurs must scale the sheer cliffs and infiltrate the German base to blow up the massive guns.When I first picked this book to read as my book for 1957, I wondered if it truly fit the definition of crime fiction. However, when I checked it out, I found that it was selected as #89 on The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time by the British Crime Writers' Association. So I stopped worrying and proceeded to devour it.
The men on the team are of various backgrounds and talents. The team leader, Mallory, is a New Zealander and was a famed rock climber before the war. Andrea, a Greek soldier whose specialty seems to be bulk, strength, and indestructibility, has worked with Mallory in the past. Dusty Miller is an American and a specialist in explosives. Casey Brown is a Scottish engineer who also specializes in radio communications. Andy Stevens is the youngest and least experienced member of the team, but is also a talented mountain climber.
It would be hard to name a favorite character. Most of them are fleshed out with some background explaining their role and temperament, and the characters are further developed by their interactions while on the mission. If I had to point out any flaws, it would be that this is a very male universe, and most of the characters are just too good, too heroic. But truly, these facts did not bother me. This was standard at the time the book was written, and this is a war story; the environment and activities were not ones that women would usually take part in.
I don't know how this book succeeds at being suspenseful. It seems fairly clear from the beginning that the team will succeed to some extent in their goal. This reader assumed that there must a traitor who provides additional tension. But even as the book seems to have a very obvious plot line, it still kept me reading eagerly. The author throws enough spanners into the works to ratchet up the tension and it never got dull.
I did see the movie many years ago on DVD, but I had forgotten much about the plot. One difference in the movie is that there are women characters, but I did not remember that. I will be watching the movie in the next month and hope to write a post about that later.
See other reviews at Past Offences and Gravetapping.
Publisher: Fawcett Gold Medal edition, 1957. Pub. same year as the Doubleday 1st ed.
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adventure, Thriller
Source: Purchased both copies at the Planned Parenthood book sale.