Thursday, October 11, 2018

25. Caravan to Vaccares by Alistair MacLean

I've probably already said this but I avoided MacLean for a long time.  His popularity made me suspicious of his quality and I am disappointed to say that my instincts were correct.  This is the second book of his that I have read and in terms of plotting, characters and structure he is generally a bit too sloppy and simplistic for my tastes.  In Caravan to Vaccares his writing style is downright goofy at times and the behaviour of the male lead so fantastical that there was very little tension or suspense, given the stakes of the situations.  Furthermore, there are just some embarrassingly bald exposition passages.  I know the entire genre is pretty boyish and simplistc but this one reads like it really was intended for British schoolboys from the 19th century, except without the rich language.

It's not un-fun, though, and I will read more of his books if choice is limited.  It's just that compared to writers like Desmond Bagley and Duncan Kyle, he is second-tier, which is depressing that of course he is the most succesful of the genre, sales and popularity wise.  "Why oh why must the sub-elites have such poor taste?!" as a friend of mine once lamented.  Indeed.

Here we start out at a resort in a valley in France along the caravan path of gypsies who end in the Carmargue which I guess was some exotic place that was in vogue at the time, because I had never heard of it before. It does sound really cool.  Maclean does a great job with location, both natural and civilized, I have to give him that. The reader benefits from a pleasant escapism.  The story involves gypsies up to no good and the devil-may-care but morally rigid englishman who is investigating them.  He is called Bowman and is an utter cypher except he is a total badass, to the point that you wonder why he didn't just beat the shit out of all the bad gypsies right from the beginning and force them to reveal their plan.  There is also a lovely young woman on holiday with her friend, who gets mixed up with Bowman's troubles and soon they are working together and he is constantly joking about how they are going to get married.  It's weird.  One really good character is the Duc de Croytor an outsized aristocrat with massive appetite who is ostensibly studying gypsy culture but is clearly involved in the game in some way.  He was actually quite fun, though his actual role in the plot was fairly goofy as well so that the strength of his character felt deflated to me by the end.

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