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South by Java Head

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The 50th anniversary edition of this classic World War 2 adventure set in south-east Asia. February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, each with a secret to guard, each willing to kill to keep The 50th anniversary edition of this classic World War 2 adventure set in south-east Asia. February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, each with a secret to guard, each willing to kill to keep that secret safe. Who or what is the dissolute Englishman, Farnholme? The elegant Dutch planter, Van Effen? The strangely beautiful Eurasian girl, Gudrun? The slave trader, Siran? The smiling and silent Nicholson who is never without his gun? Only one thing is certain: the rotting tramp steamer is a floating death trap, carrying a cargo of human TNT. Dawn sees them far out to sea but with the first murderous dive bombers already aimed at their ship. Thus begins an ordeal few are to survive, a nightmare succession of disasters wrought by the hell-bent Japanese, the unrelenting tropical sun and by the survivors themselves, whose hatred and bitterness divides them one against the other. Written after the acclaimed and phenomenally successful HMS Ulysses and The Guns of Navarone, this was MacLean’s third book, and it contains all the hallmarks of those other two classics. Rich with stunning visual imagery, muscular narrative power, brutality, courage and breathtaking excitement, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of South by Java Head offers readers a long-denied chance to enjoy one of the greatest war novels ever written.


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The 50th anniversary edition of this classic World War 2 adventure set in south-east Asia. February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, each with a secret to guard, each willing to kill to keep The 50th anniversary edition of this classic World War 2 adventure set in south-east Asia. February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, each with a secret to guard, each willing to kill to keep that secret safe. Who or what is the dissolute Englishman, Farnholme? The elegant Dutch planter, Van Effen? The strangely beautiful Eurasian girl, Gudrun? The slave trader, Siran? The smiling and silent Nicholson who is never without his gun? Only one thing is certain: the rotting tramp steamer is a floating death trap, carrying a cargo of human TNT. Dawn sees them far out to sea but with the first murderous dive bombers already aimed at their ship. Thus begins an ordeal few are to survive, a nightmare succession of disasters wrought by the hell-bent Japanese, the unrelenting tropical sun and by the survivors themselves, whose hatred and bitterness divides them one against the other. Written after the acclaimed and phenomenally successful HMS Ulysses and The Guns of Navarone, this was MacLean’s third book, and it contains all the hallmarks of those other two classics. Rich with stunning visual imagery, muscular narrative power, brutality, courage and breathtaking excitement, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of South by Java Head offers readers a long-denied chance to enjoy one of the greatest war novels ever written.

30 review for South by Java Head

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cphe

    Quite enjoyed this part sea faring adventure set during the second world war. A hand full of "survivors" battle insurmountable odds against the might of the Japanese when fleeing the fall of Singapore. I enjoyed trying to second guess the motives of many of the characters and was never quite sure who might very well turn out to be the "bad guy". The author did a excellent job of keeping the tension ratcheted throughout. My only negatives that I felt detracted from a rollicking good yarn were the Quite enjoyed this part sea faring adventure set during the second world war. A hand full of "survivors" battle insurmountable odds against the might of the Japanese when fleeing the fall of Singapore. I enjoyed trying to second guess the motives of many of the characters and was never quite sure who might very well turn out to be the "bad guy". The author did a excellent job of keeping the tension ratcheted throughout. My only negatives that I felt detracted from a rollicking good yarn were the stereotyping of some of the characters. I did feel that the novel itself fell away towards the end and quite defied belief. The delivery of the story wasn't always quite as smooth as I would have liked,i.e when they left the island, one minute they were preparing to depart and the next paragraph they were in the water and setting sail for safety. It seemed to be a "jumpy" delivery in parts. Regardless, I did enjoy the novel and felt that for an action filled novel you really can't go past MacLean in this genre.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    An Alistair MacLean story I'd not read previously. Excellent, MacLean at his very best. From the first moment, it was a tense, thrilling adventure; a group of British men and women escaping from Singapore during WWII in the face of the Japanese invasion. Going from threat to threat, displaying understated heroism and growth, the characters are interesting and well-presented. I liked the surprises and twists and ultimately the whole story. Excellent.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Feliks

    Its interesting to investigate MacLean's early novels to see the original formulation of all the hackneyed narrative conventions and action-cliches that he came to rely on later in his career. That's the main thing I got out of this novel. MacLean is definitely one of the oddest of the successful thriller writers to come out of WWII. Some of his works ('Guns of Navarone') have themes latent within them which can be raised to greatness. Most of his novels are simply workmanlike, filled technically Its interesting to investigate MacLean's early novels to see the original formulation of all the hackneyed narrative conventions and action-cliches that he came to rely on later in his career. That's the main thing I got out of this novel. MacLean is definitely one of the oddest of the successful thriller writers to come out of WWII. Some of his works ('Guns of Navarone') have themes latent within them which can be raised to greatness. Most of his novels are simply workmanlike, filled technically ingenious heists and commando raids. This book written in '58--but written with a WWII sensibility. 'Japs' are referred to as 'diabolical devils', 'inhuman fiends', etc. Strange choice of material for MacLean here, in that he uses rather mundane military forces as the antagonists instead of the obviously fictitious and cozily-abstract 'elite, crack, units' he would always invent later. There are no sophisticated weapons in this novel either; just your standard battle fleets, bayonets, machine-guns, and dive bombers. Its all really rather prosaic. A straightforward war story. Well, almost. There are inevitably a couple of lurid elements--'secret plans on microfilm' and '100,000 tonnes of secret fuel oil' sought by the minions of the Rising Sun. Really, most of the story is about survival on a crowded life-raft. But what I was looking for when I picked up the book--fully-fledged characters and realistic dialog--neither was present. They're not present in the later MacLean career... but I was hoping this early writing would not be part of the formula. I was disappointed. Instead of three-dimensional personalities, there are circus caricatures. Like the Scots Sergeant-Major who can fell anyone with a massive blow from his club-like fist. Like the heroic protagonist who gives speeches while tossing grenades, "its nothing, really, all in a day's work". And at least two of the shipwreck survivors are secretly saboteurs. Naturally. Eric Ambler does all this so much better. Ambler distracts the reader from the predictable story goal. MacLean doesn't bother. He telegraphs what the 'macguffin' is at the start of his stories. In this case, microfilm. in 'Jaqva Head' MacLean again is brusquely upfront, informs us (painfully) that the outcome of his plot has a nation teetering on the brink of disaster. Still, he gets away with it. Because he's an action writer; and he has a fabulous dexterity at writing his own particular style of action which no one else wants to do. His style is interchangeable no matter what the title of the books are; its uncanny the way he never switches anything up or tries something new. His male heroes are unique in never needing sleep; possessing fantastic calm even in the wildest chaos; and never questioning themselves no matter what. Its gets very tiring. 'South By Java Head' is cast from the same die as his later line of hits. On its own; nothing very special. A lesser example of his abilities but found quite near the debut of his career. That's what's remarkable.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Interesting author, MacLean. He began his career with three WWII novels, the classics HMS Ulysses and Guns of Navarrone, along with the lesser known South By Java Head. He then switched gears and produced a series of six contemporary (at their time) novels using the sardonic, first person tough-guy style for which he is perhaps best remembered (for better or worse). From there, it was back to the third person for his next four books, all relative classics including the excellent Ice Station Zebr Interesting author, MacLean. He began his career with three WWII novels, the classics HMS Ulysses and Guns of Navarrone, along with the lesser known South By Java Head. He then switched gears and produced a series of six contemporary (at their time) novels using the sardonic, first person tough-guy style for which he is perhaps best remembered (for better or worse). From there, it was back to the third person for his next four books, all relative classics including the excellent Ice Station Zebra and Where Eagles Dare, along with his only sequel and last World War II story, Force 10 From Navarone. So Java Head is pretty early MacLean, and it shows. I mainly wanted to read this because it is set - or at least starts out (and too quickly leaves) - in Singapore, my current home, and because there is such a dearth of good Singapore war stories (the only other one that comes to mind being King Rat, James Clavell's first book). But other than that, there isn't a whole lot to particularly recommend this book. It's not at all bad, but it is dated and just not particularly memorable. It's a classic adrift-at-sea story, with some particularly nasty and stereotypical Jap baddies, (MacLean exhibits much of the racial prejudices of the day in his work, and is much kinder to the Germans than he ever was to the Japanese). The basic construct is classic MacLean and similar to his later Night Without End (a random group of characters forced together by unusual circumstances - and there's a killer in their midst!), along with some of his typical if confusing good-guy-pretending-to-be-bad-guy-pretending-to-be-good-guy (aka "WTF?") twists deep in the third act. I've somehow been rereading a lot of MacLean lately - mostly from his "middle period" - and so with no set narrator here it took me a full third of the book to figure out just who the hero was, which was actually kind of nice for a change. MacLean's female characters also tend to be stereotypes - either angels (or fallen angels) with not much to do except act noble or swoon, or older matrons representing the Empire at its best - and his dialogue was always pretty clunky. With his complex plots, a lot of key points end up having to be explained thorugh lengthy bad guy monologuing, or scenes where the soon-to-be-killed good guy asks a lot of questions before he escapes (often thanks to one of those good-guy-pretending-to-be-bad-guy characters). As a diver, I question a bit of his marine science - folks getting grabbed by giant clams, and barracuda being described as "the most voracious killers in the sea" - but MacLean spent a number of years in the Royal Navy, including the Atlantic and Pacific War theaters, so I imagine he should know what he's talking about; he certainly does know his boats. Interestingly, he helped evacuate liberated POWs from Singapore's infamous Changi Prison after the war, (which was the setting for King Rat). Also interestingly, like Joseph Conrad, MacLean learned English as a second language - he grew up speaking Scottish Gaelic!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    On the night of February 14, 1942, Singapore has been bombed so thoroughly by the Japanese that little survives. More importantly, little in the way of transport out of Singapore—and transport is what Brigadier Farnholme urgently needs, because after many months of trying, Farnholme has finally managed to obtain the detailed plans for the Japanese invasion of Northern Australia. The plans are all encoded, of course, and the only man who can break the code lives across the world, in London. Farnh On the night of February 14, 1942, Singapore has been bombed so thoroughly by the Japanese that little survives. More importantly, little in the way of transport out of Singapore—and transport is what Brigadier Farnholme urgently needs, because after many months of trying, Farnholme has finally managed to obtain the detailed plans for the Japanese invasion of Northern Australia. The plans are all encoded, of course, and the only man who can break the code lives across the world, in London. Farnholme has to get out of Singapore, to Allied territory, to get the papers to London. Thus begins South by Java Head, with Farnholme, in disguise as a drunken old sot trying to escape with a Gladstone bag full of industrial diamonds. Aboard a former slaving vessel, with a very shady captain and crew, he finds himself with other wounded, shell-shocked or just plain lost people, the lovely Eurasian nurse Gudrun Drachmann and the two-year old orphan Peter among them. And when the boat is bombed and sunk, its survivors rescued by an oil tanker, the tanker’s first officer, John Nicolson, soon becomes a pivotal figure in the entire adventure… And adventure it is, in classic MacLean style. With many twists, with sudden disasters following on the heels of triumph, with people switching sides, with surprises round every bend. There’s a romance (restrained and believable) thrown in, and there's a fair share of everything from breathtaking bravery to sheer save-your-own-hide selfishness. Combined with that are amazing real descriptions of the sea, of marine warfare: not as brilliantly memorable as in MacLean’s masterpiece HMS Ulysses, but still excellent. The one thing that jarred was the distinctly racist tone when it came to the Japanese—the ‘yellow devils’, as they're referred to repeatedly. The Japanese characters in South by Java Head are uniformly evil, brutal, ‘with porcine eyes’, and barbaric when it comes to dealing with enemies. Yes, I understand that MacLean is not only writing from the point of view of the Allies, but also as a man who himself fought in the war; but this is caricaturing of a race in a blindly generalized way. (It’s telling that—spoiler ahead—the sole German, a soldier at that and obviously an ally of the Japanese, eventually lets his better side triumph).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul Cornelius

    Filled with purple prose, cliched feelings, and static characters, South By Java Head nevertheless is meticulously plotted and overflowing with over the top action scenes. It is everything a teenage boy or an undiscriminating adult male reader would enjoy back in the 1950s and early 1960s. And that is not so much of a put down as one might think. I doubt the same target audience today could deal with the book. They haven't the concentration, the vocabulary, or patience to deal with much of the n Filled with purple prose, cliched feelings, and static characters, South By Java Head nevertheless is meticulously plotted and overflowing with over the top action scenes. It is everything a teenage boy or an undiscriminating adult male reader would enjoy back in the 1950s and early 1960s. And that is not so much of a put down as one might think. I doubt the same target audience today could deal with the book. They haven't the concentration, the vocabulary, or patience to deal with much of the nautical and geographic terms that would undoubtedly overwhelm them. Not so back during the days of the book's launch. The target audience for mass paperback adventure stories was not only larger than today but more intelligent. Another fault? There is the feel occasionally that South By Java Head veers close to being a romance novel. Especially during the last two or three chapters I almost expected it to resort to the language of a bodice ripper. At times it seems a cross between John Carter of Mars and a Barbara Cartland novel. So why read this book? It does become tiresome at points and the characters never exhibit the slightest indication of growth. They are just the same at the end as at the beginning, expressing noble values, justice, and fair play. But then there are those action passages. Pretty good. No wonder Alistair MacLean did so well when translated to film. And there is another reason. Written in 1957, this novel about World War II, the Fall of Singapore, and a motley group of survivors who survive torpedo attacks, starvation at sea, and chases through jungles actually works at another level. It's a Cold War novel. It's not just the British against the Japanese. It's the Western world against an inhuman Oriental totalitarian ideology. Without spoiling the plot, just let it be said that White Europeans come together to see their common heritage under assault from a bloodthirsty foe who morally is somewhere between Ming the Merciless and Mao Zedong.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chandar

    Saw this book on the library shelf, and was overcome by a wave of nostalgia!! Remembered reading these books during my schooldays, and giving them more attention than my school books! MacLean didn't disappoint, and I ended up sitting up late into the night finishing the book in one sitting!! He is truly the master of this genre. I don't know if it is nostalgia or the style of writing, but later year thrillers like the Ludlum's and the Wilbur Smith's just don't have the same effect.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Quoopisk

    I read this book because a MacLean fan of my acquaintance insisted that the literary hell I was put through by "Where Eagles Dare" was a fluke, and that his other books were better. Big mistake. This one is worse. MacLean has an infuriating habit of writing military commanders who perpetually endanger their soldiers, their missions, and other innocents through an inexplicable refusal to kill enemy combatants. In "Where Eagles Dare," the supposedly heroic mission leader makes a ridiculous and irr I read this book because a MacLean fan of my acquaintance insisted that the literary hell I was put through by "Where Eagles Dare" was a fluke, and that his other books were better. Big mistake. This one is worse. MacLean has an infuriating habit of writing military commanders who perpetually endanger their soldiers, their missions, and other innocents through an inexplicable refusal to kill enemy combatants. In "Where Eagles Dare," the supposedly heroic mission leader makes a ridiculous and irrelevant effort to arrest a pair of Nazis in Germany during wartime and bring them home to face a trial--yes, a trial--instead of just shooting the stinking Nazis like any good soldier would do. The eventual result is that the Nazis die anyway, but not before they make corpses out of most of his soldiers. So: no trial, and a whole lot of Allied families are needlessly bereaved because of our hero. "South by Java Head" turns out to be no different. In this case, a captain must shepherd a stricken and parched lifeboat full of wounded survivors through Japanese-infested waters to reach safety in Australia. And just to spice things up, guess what additional passengers the captain thinks it's vitally important to bring back on his boat: a full crew of pirates! Why? To stand trial, of course! If you know MacLean, then the result is predictable: there's no trial, because the pirates wind up dead en route, but only after taking a bunch of innocents with them. I console myself by picturing MacLean proudly and dramatically explaining to the bereaved families the senseless vanity that their sons and husbands were sacrificed to, and then those families beating the stuffing out of him. (Incidentally, after a while it becomes almost comical the way MacLean seems unable to describe Japanese people without throwing in the adjectives "leering" and "yellow.") This is, I swear on all that is sacred, the last MacLean I'll ever read. I don't care if it turns out he ghost-wrote Harry Potter; I'm done with him. (Related: Hey Goodreads! How come I can't give less than one star?)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Although I've seen the films made from several of Maclean's books, I don't think I'd ever read anything by him until this one. Published in 1958, it very much feels like an adventure thriller of its era. The book opens in Singapore as Japanese troops are about to overrun it in 1942. We quickly meet a variety of people who've made their way to the docks, seeking to escape -- alas, every ship has sailed. Among the group are an elderly Brigadier who is quickly revealed to be carrying secret plans vi Although I've seen the films made from several of Maclean's books, I don't think I'd ever read anything by him until this one. Published in 1958, it very much feels like an adventure thriller of its era. The book opens in Singapore as Japanese troops are about to overrun it in 1942. We quickly meet a variety of people who've made their way to the docks, seeking to escape -- alas, every ship has sailed. Among the group are an elderly Brigadier who is quickly revealed to be carrying secret plans vital to the war effort that must make it to Allied hands, a group of local nurses, an orphaned two-year old, and a group of wounded British soldiers led by a Scottish corporal. Soon enough they are extracted by a mysterious Dutchman and a crew of cutthroats, and not too long after that, they are all picked up by a British merchant marine oil tanker. From then on out, it's one narrow escape after another as they dodge Japanese planes, ships, and submarines, trying desperately to make it to Allied lands. However there's more than a bit of the Agatha Christie mystery to it all, with colorful characters all trapped together, some who might not be whom they appear to be, secret motives, etc... None of the characters have any depth or dimension to them, but are mainly constructed to serve the adventure's plot. It's reasonably page-turning stuff, albeit fairly uneven in tone and pacing at times. The opening in Singapore is a deeply immersive slow burn, while the action on the high seas is hectic but exciting, and the climactic chapters feel rushed and overexcited. It won't help the modern reader that the Japanese villains are universally depicted as cruel savage brutes, and their commander is a master of torture. It's all a bit cartoonish and rushed at the end, which is a shame, because most of the book -- as over-the-top as it is, is fun. Recommended to those who like rip-roaring WWII adventure tales, especially nautical ones.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Ray

    [SPOILER ALERT] I judge a book largely by the ending; this one ends badly--so it's not among my favorite MacLean stories. But it has one quote I quite like: "Foster always said that education was very important, but that it didn't really matter, because intelligence was more important than that, and that even intelligence didn't count for so much, that wisdom was far more important still. He said he had no idea in the world whether you had education or intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn' [SPOILER ALERT] I judge a book largely by the ending; this one ends badly--so it's not among my favorite MacLean stories. But it has one quote I quite like: "Foster always said that education was very important, but that it didn't really matter, because intelligence was more important than that, and that even intelligence didn't count for so much, that wisdom was far more important still. He said he had no idea in the world whether you had education or intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn't matter less, a blind man could see that you had a good heart, and the good heart was all that mattered in this world." (Spoken by the widow Foster after the man dies a hero.) Goodreads trivia on South by Java Head: https://www.goodreads.com/trivia/work... Goodreads trivia on Alistair Stuart MacLean: https://www.goodreads.com/trivia/auth...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Imran Ahmed

    A standard MacLean novel with the usual twists and turns in the plot. Not one of MacLean's best readable enough. The book tempted me because it was set in Singapore during the period of the Japanese invasion in World War Two. I believed it might give some flavor of Singapore and Southeast Asia during the period. Well, it didn't because the plot was very much a MacLean plot with action, intrigue and a little bit of history thrown in for good measure. Recommended for MacLean fans or if you've noth A standard MacLean novel with the usual twists and turns in the plot. Not one of MacLean's best readable enough. The book tempted me because it was set in Singapore during the period of the Japanese invasion in World War Two. I believed it might give some flavor of Singapore and Southeast Asia during the period. Well, it didn't because the plot was very much a MacLean plot with action, intrigue and a little bit of history thrown in for good measure. Recommended for MacLean fans or if you've nothing better to do. The author does have many better titles for those wishing to taste his style of prose. And it is wordy so keep a disctionary handy!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aravind

    This story of action, suspense and survival by the master of the genre didn't disappoint me, for most part, incomprehensible nautical terms and a seemingly hurried ending apart...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dharmabum

    The thing about Maclean's books are that the action starts right from the word go. And there isn't a dull moment throughout. And then there are his heroes - he develops their character so strongly, they're not invincible but smart, valorous and with impeccable character. In this book, it is Nicholson, second in command of Viroma, a British merchant ship. While he is only a merchant sailor, the courage he displays is superhuman. There is the pathos and raw cruelty of war. There's also a beautiful The thing about Maclean's books are that the action starts right from the word go. And there isn't a dull moment throughout. And then there are his heroes - he develops their character so strongly, they're not invincible but smart, valorous and with impeccable character. In this book, it is Nicholson, second in command of Viroma, a British merchant ship. While he is only a merchant sailor, the courage he displays is superhuman. There is the pathos and raw cruelty of war. There's also a beautiful yet muted romance between Nicholson and Gudrun, a nurse. All this is the backdrop, and the plot revolves around a bunch of people who set sail from Singapore, and their unspeakable misery, as they sail in the most difficult conditions to escape the cruel Japanese forces. I'm reducing one point as I found the ending somewhat abrupt and unconvincing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Baustman

    I first read this novel when I was a teenager, and I loved it. 45 years later, I though it was just "good." Ahh, experience!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anirudh Parthasarathy

    I’ve a liking for history and I possess a particular interest in gathering information about the two world wars. When I wanted to read works of fiction on the world wars, I was immediately redirected to Alistair MacLean. I picked South by Java Head since my knowledge on the Pacific War isn't all that high (The edition I purchased was also rather inexpensive). Coming to the plot, retired Brigadier Foster Farnholme is at Singapore and he is desperate to leave. The reason being, he has the complete I’ve a liking for history and I possess a particular interest in gathering information about the two world wars. When I wanted to read works of fiction on the world wars, I was immediately redirected to Alistair MacLean. I picked South by Java Head since my knowledge on the Pacific War isn't all that high (The edition I purchased was also rather inexpensive). Coming to the plot, retired Brigadier Foster Farnholme is at Singapore and he is desperate to leave. The reason being, he has the complete plans for the Japanese invasion of Australia and wants to hand it over to the Australians. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t favourable to him, the Japanese troops are all over Singapore and the British forces were all set to surrender on the next day. Farnholme along with some people leave Singapore and after a chain of events in the sea, they end up in a British – Arabian tanker Viroma led by Captain Findhorn and his trusted subordinate John Nicolson. But, they know that they aren’t going to be out there for too long and the Japanese may attack them any time. The plot is centred on John Nicolson along with a romantic sub-plot between Nicolson and a nurse. When I was suggested Alistair MacLean, I was told to expect a thrilling adventure, an element of suspense, traitors and double-agents and of course, protagonists surviving beating all the odds. South by Java Head fulfils all these, including the last one. It had a brilliant adventure, desperate people trying to reach Australia by sea from Singapore. An element of suspense – when the Japanese are going to attack and how this little crew is going to cope up with it. Protagonists surviving beating all the odds – I’m not willing to make this a spoiler. Definitely, you’d also be made to guess who is going to be the traitor, there might be one or more. But, the book certainly also has several drawbacks. Alistair MacLean might be well known for anything else, but certainly not for his language, with most of the dialogues being flat and boring and also had occasional grammatical errors. I also didn’t like the way the author portrayed the Japanese, as heartless killing machines and frequently referring to them as “those inhuman devils”. Besides, people who aren’t familiar with maritime terms would find it difficult to understand the navy jargons. Moreover, the end to the sup-plot was also quite abrupt, as though the author used it only to lighten the entire plot and had no intentions of giving it a proper finish. There were also several loose ends, such as; it was never mentioned why Farnholme had a liking for the two year old boy and why he had to arrange such a dangerous trip for him. However, the bottom-line is, whether the reader contemplates if the occurrences are possible in a real situation or not, the reader would certainly enjoy reading this book. This book is highly recommended to those who are in the same “boat” as I am in terms of interests. I’m willing to give this book a three out of five, because of the excessive number of negatives

  16. 4 out of 5

    Augustus

    I read this first when I was a boy and enjoyed it. Now I see some of the flaws, the unbelievable endurance of some of the characters and the casual racism. Enjoyed it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John Marsh

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Library ebook (a reminder for me of the story in brief) Checked Singapore WII invasion Wikipeada and it was in the month of February 1942 and the article portrays the Japanese army in Singapore and Malaysia were extremely brutal. As to how many Japanese actually followed this horrific course is not clear and of course atrocities imprint themselves in the mind and hearts of the people and history itself. February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes Library ebook (a reminder for me of the story in brief) Checked Singapore WII invasion Wikipeada and it was in the month of February 1942 and the article portrays the Japanese army in Singapore and Malaysia were extremely brutal. As to how many Japanese actually followed this horrific course is not clear and of course atrocities imprint themselves in the mind and hearts of the people and history itself. February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, some with a secret to guard, some willing to kill to keep that secret safe. The boat owner, Siran definitely was treacherous, ruthless, a black marketeer and a slave trader amoung other things. And when his ship was bombed, already he had locked in many of the passangers for future slave trading. He left his own ship and the passengers still locked in and umable to get out. Dutch planter, Van Effen, who turned out to be a german spy named Von something was after two things diamonds(worth 2m something and a Japanese invasion plan of Australia with photos that he knew the Englishman, Farnholme had on him. But it is clear from the the plot elements of both certainity and uncertainity thus Van Effen motication in ensuring the lives of Farnholme and others. But in doing so and the obvious barbarianism of the Japanese and his own inate goodness demonstrated by the risks he took that were not necessary saw him assist his own country's enemy in the end and he made major in roads in saving the group time and again along with the others of course. The strangely beautiful Eurasian girl, Gudrun? The, ? The smiling and silent Nicholson who is never without his gun? Only one thing is certain: the rotting tramp steamer is a floating death trap, carrying a cargo of human TNT. Dawn sees them far out to sea but with the first murderous dive bombers already aimed at their ship. Thus begins an ordeal few are to survive, a nightmare succession of disasters wrought by the hell-bent Japanese, the unrelenting tropical sun and by the survivors themselves, whose hatred and bitterness divides them one against the other.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Batten

    I first read this more than 30 years ago as a teenager and enjoyed it as much as - if not more than - I did back then, possibly because I have a greater understanding of the war in the Pacific now. But I hasten to add that that’s not a requirement for the book; it just puts it more into context. The narrative whistles along at a cracking pace yet there is no skimping on the descriptions of various action sequences, particularly on the sea-bound elements where MacLean is at his best (no surprise t I first read this more than 30 years ago as a teenager and enjoyed it as much as - if not more than - I did back then, possibly because I have a greater understanding of the war in the Pacific now. But I hasten to add that that’s not a requirement for the book; it just puts it more into context. The narrative whistles along at a cracking pace yet there is no skimping on the descriptions of various action sequences, particularly on the sea-bound elements where MacLean is at his best (no surprise there, him being a Navy man in the war). The only slight let-down, I feel, is that the end feels rushed. It’s exciting, that’s for sure, but lacking the level of detail of the earlier sections and that leaves a modicum of disappointment at what might have been - hence dropping a star (if I could have done just half a star, I would have). Some of the language is a little outdated by today’s standards but you have to remember when the book was written (1958) and allow for that. These last two things aside, it is a great read and thoroughly recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    I looked forward to reading my first Alister MacLean novel and early in the book was not disappointed. The book was cleverly set up and introduced. It is a World War II novel that begins with an escape from a ravaged and burning Singapore by boat with an agent and an unusual cast of characters that are carrying the plans for Japan's invasion of Australia. It goes downhill from there. Surving hurricanes, bombings, being picked up by an oil tanker, then attacked by a submarine, then a fake U.S. PT I looked forward to reading my first Alister MacLean novel and early in the book was not disappointed. The book was cleverly set up and introduced. It is a World War II novel that begins with an escape from a ravaged and burning Singapore by boat with an agent and an unusual cast of characters that are carrying the plans for Japan's invasion of Australia. It goes downhill from there. Surving hurricanes, bombings, being picked up by an oil tanker, then attacked by a submarine, then a fake U.S. PT Boat, rowing to Java where they are finally captured by the Japanese, only to escape. There was so much action that it became boring. The only part that was missing was when the safe fell out of the sky on Wiley Coyote's head.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen King

    Well, it was a very good read in many ways. Parts were a bit too one sided, but historically it was very interesting. One, the attitudes about the Japanese were so hard and hateful at that time. Two, the typical old female roles were stronger than now. And, three, the nautical terms were very interesting and new to me. Terms like Baft, or into the bows of the boat, and many more. I meant to look them up even though I knew the jist of them, mostly. Oh, and as so many other authors do, the hero is Well, it was a very good read in many ways. Parts were a bit too one sided, but historically it was very interesting. One, the attitudes about the Japanese were so hard and hateful at that time. Two, the typical old female roles were stronger than now. And, three, the nautical terms were very interesting and new to me. Terms like Baft, or into the bows of the boat, and many more. I meant to look them up even though I knew the jist of them, mostly. Oh, and as so many other authors do, the hero is so much better than anyone else - does no wrong and can continue even though severely injured, etc. But overall I liked it and will continue to read his other books.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonah

    This was a good MacLean adventure story like the others I've read, but I knocked it down from four stars to three mainly due to the last quarter or so of the story. The Japanese and German officers were burdened with awful, schmaltzy dialogue and the need to tell the hero the entirety of their past and future, like the villains in a bad cartoon. That made it seem like an old Hollywood b-movie, but otherwise I thought it was a good yarn.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This was an interesting book. The premise is that a British operative has mysteriously got his hands on encoded Japanese plans for an invasion of Australia in WWII. The operative is trying to get the plans out of hostile territory and into the hands of the allies, where they can be of use. Highly episodic in nature with several good plot twists, but the ending felt quite abrupt.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lexi Dew

    so much fun and can't recommend a book more action packed...perfect balance of hope and despair to keep you on the edge of your seat. and yet there is always humour to be found no matter the scene...something to take away for real life! Alistair is a storyteller no doubt....and I have already started another of his works!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Williams

    I was disappointed. I have read better from MacLean. This was not one of his better efforts. Sometimes the style was too thick and the plot too slow. The plot had the usual twists of a MacLean book, but this time I figured out half of them. Motivations of some of the characters, especially the big one to escape at the end were unclear.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wan Peter

    I simply love it so much. This is the 3rd time I am reading it, don't ask me why. The war is so - real - frighting yet these brave men on board the Kerry Dance and then on Viroma shows the never give up attitude.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    As the Japanese army is about to enter Singapore, refuges escape the city on a ship. Running a gauntlet of Japaneses air and naval forces, the ship enters into a desperate bid to reach safety by sailing south of Java Head.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John Williams

    One of his earliest and best book. A gripping war story. My main complaint is that it totally demonizes the Japanese enemy. He doesn't do this to the Germans in the same way in his other WW2 stories.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    This was a fun one, lots of suspense and WWII knavery by the Japanese. I also liked the love story that evolved at the end. It's a story of a group of refugees trying to escape from a Southeast Asian island in WWII. They end up trying to sneak their small boat around Java Head...thus the title.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Winter Snowfall

    Not as much of a "cloak & dagger" novel, as you would typically expect from Alistair MacLean, as it focuses more on the up-front action and less on tying up the loose ends of the story-line. Still, it will not disappoint you unless you were hoping for something in the likes of "Where Eagles Dare". Not as much of a "cloak & dagger" novel, as you would typically expect from Alistair MacLean, as it focuses more on the up-front action and less on tying up the loose ends of the story-line. Still, it will not disappoint you unless you were hoping for something in the likes of "Where Eagles Dare".

  30. 4 out of 5

    Morgan McGuire

    I couldn't tell what was going on in some of the scenes because there are a lot of similar (and similarly named) characters, some of which would seem to be forgotten by the author at various points...but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless! Exactly what I go to MacLean for.

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