"Santorini" by Alistair MacLean

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This political detective story starts when people aboard the British military frigate Ariadne – one of NATO’s most advanced vessels of its time (the book is written in 1986) witness the crash of a mysterious plane they can’t identify. Engulfed in flames, it sinks in the Aegean, in the vicinity of Thera Island. About the same time they witness the last minutes of the plane they receive a SOS message from a sinking private yacht, also burning badly after an explosion. They arrive just in time to rescue six survivors from the yacht, but there is nobody to rescue from the plane.

Commander Talbot and his able crew members – and later, Vice Admiral Hawkins – set out to investigate an unpleasant plot involving highly positioned military staff of the Pentagon. From the beginning they started suspecting one of the rescued survivors – the yacht owner Andropulous – of being something different from what he claims. Later, their suspicions get confirmed in the most terrible way.

The sunken plane presents a real problem, its cargo consisting of atomic and hydrogen bombs and a timing device ticking. Should they get detonated, they might cause, apart from their own deadly effect, a strong eruption of a nearby volcano and an earthquake. The consequences might be apocalyptic…

But, needless to say, our brave and in every way admirable men prevent the catastrophe. They always do in books. Too bad it’s not that easy in real life – for example when oil gets spilled into the water and nobody knows how to plug the hole. Commander Talbot and Leutenant Denholm might suggest something, if they were real.

The book itself is full of humour and reads in one go. The plot is perfectly thrilling; the author’s language flows with ease; the character are, as I said above, admirable, each in his own way, and even the villains are somewhat amusing. Hard to believe these people are talking about a possible catastrophe that will destroy most of the world if they don’t prevent it: you’d have thought they discussed a picnic. The author mentions the Russians a few times – in the way typical for the Cold War times, but jokingly, so I never once felt hurt or offended, but grinned every time.

Who will like the book? All those who like political thrillers, for sure, though, perhaps, it’s not tough enough. As I’m reading in Wikipedia, it’s the last work by the author, written just a year before he died, and that his latest works were received by the critics with less approval than his earlier ones. Well, I haven’t seen the rest of them yet, so it’s hard to judge. Even if the plot is indeed improbable, as the critics claim, it is, at least, amusing and has given me a few pleasant hours of reading.

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