Posts Tagged ‘The Satan Bug’

The Satan Bug by Alistair MacLean ~ 1962. Originally published under the pseudonym Ian Stuart. This edition: Fontana, 1974. Paperback. ISBN: 0-00-612510-7. 223 pages.

A certain small thrift store which is on my book hunting rounds has long had a corner shelf dedicated (as the faded cardboard sign states) to “Men’s Books”, and though I didn’t pick up this particular Alistair MacLean there, I well might have, for this is absolutely a guy’s book, with bells on.

Which is not to say that women don’t read him as well, and with enjoyment, but if one were to mark down the names of those purchasing MacLean’s books over the years, I’ll bet they’re predominantly male.

For this is properly masculine 1960s’ capital-T Thriller, an Action Novel in every sense of the term, full of Manly Passion and not a little Violence; the already damaged hero (“Old war wound acting up, pay it no mind, I’ll be fine…”) gets smacked around severely. He engages in a series of brutal fisticuffs with assorted larger-than-him villains, is pistol-whipped, tortured, thrown down from high places, kicked, stabbed, shot at…pretty well the works.

1962 1st edition U.K. dust jacket, with MacLean’s pseudonym on cover.

But does this stop him? No! Of course not.

Broken ribs strapped up, oozing bandages in place over the rawer body parts, multiple concussions blithely dismissed, Pierre Cavell soldiers on and gives as good as he gets, brandishing his trusty Hanyatti revolver – which I’d never¬† heard of before, you learn something new every day when reading these old books, and hang on! – Google says that there ain’t no such thing; AM made it up! – so there you go; not much else in this gloriously ridiculous novel is all that plausible but I confess I am disappointed just a little bit to find out that the deadly Hanyatti is mythical, because that’s the sort of trivia that sticks in one’s brain, ready to be dusted off one day in the future to bedazzle in appropriate conversation…oh, heck, I’m digressing madly, where was I? –¬† to triumph at last in saving the day not just for Britain, but for the entire world.

Take a breath. Excerpt time.

“It’s a gun all right,” I assured him. “A Japanese Hanyatti nine-shot automatic, safety-catch off and indicator, I observe, registering full. Don’t worry about the scotch tape over the mouth of the barrel, that’s only to protect a highly delicate mechanism. The bullet behind will go through it, it’ll go through you, and if you had a twin brother sitting behind you it would go through him also. Your forearms on the table.”

Scotch tape over the barrel? The bit the bullet blazes out of? “To protect the delicate mechanism”? Methinks our author is having some private fun of his own, here.

Not only is our action hero tough, he’s relentlessly witty, quipping his way through the tale much to my easily-amused readerly pleasure, though his fictional comrades occasionally express annoyance at Pierre’s excessive verbal frivolity.

Movie poster, 1965.

So many of Alistair MacLean’s fast-moving and violence-containing thrillers read like ready-made action movie screenplays, and by golly, look here; someone else thought so too. With the scene changed to America versus Britain, and the hero’s stalwart – and stunningly beautiful – wife changed to a girlfriend, and who knows what other tweakings. “Loosely based on” most likely applies; I haven’t seen the movie myself, but can tell from the description that it departs from MacLean’s version in a number of ways, though the key idea remains.

Which is that in a top-secret research facility in rural England, not one but two deadly toxins have been created, based on botulism and polio. One dissipates and loses its virulence over twenty-four hours (Type A, in the red-topped flask), the other (Type B, blue top), is rather more deadly – a saltspoonful has the potential to turn the earth into a barren, people-less planet.

Both toxins are stolen, apparently by a madman intent on using them to enforce his demands for world peace – these things trump the nuclear weapons being brandished between the super powers – but the reality is something rather more prosaic.

Our Pierre sorts it all out, and – was there ever any doubt? – saves the day.

One doesn’t read Alistair MacLean for anything but entertainment, and The Satan Bug is all of that.

8/10, for the unstoppable Pierre Cavell, not to mention his charming spouse, Mary, who plays her part in the drama with appropriate grit and steely resolve, all the while maintaining her lovely looks, even under batterment by the bad guys. (See? That’s supposed to be her on the cover of my Fontana paperback, way up at the top of the post. She’s lost her shoes, it seems…)

Here are a few extras I bumped into while poking around on the internet: The original 1962 dust jacket of the American first edition, and two more 1965 movie posters. Enjoy!

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