“Goodbye California” by Alistair MacLean

 Alistair MacLean is known for action-packed, fast-moving, high-stakes mysteries. Goodbye California is no different.

Terrorists have attacked a nuclear power station, stolen truck-loads of nuclear fuel, and kidnapped several nuclear physicist professors and some female secretaries. What is their plan? What do they want?

The husband of one of the kidnapped women is a detective sergeant – a “cop” who can be a terror to those both inside and outside the law. He and his son (CHP) lay down their badges to pursue their own lines of inquiry…all of them racing against the clock once the villain threatens to detonate a nuclear device to create a tidal wave across Los Angeles.

Sgt. Ryder is a tough Robin-Hood type who answers to no one and doesn’t flinch at dispensing his own justice. Icily calm in the face of crisis and with a brilliant instinct for connecting disparate puzzle pieces, he begins his campaign of justice by “interrogating” (AKA beating up) the corrupt chief of police and other baddies.

The evidence he forces out with his Fist of Terror seems at first unrelated to the thief of nuclear fuel – a cultured, sophisticated man of mysterious past and foreign extraction. Can bribes in the police structure really relate to an armed compound full of Muslims? (Muslims that freely help themselves to Scotch and treat their women prisoners with respect, I might add.)

Yes – Mr. MacLean can relate these things. And he does. As Ryder digs deeper into the conspiracy – ordering an official of the FBI around to do his legwork – he hits upon the true conspiracy, and his instinctive conclusions are accepted by the hovering intelligence officials because, well, they don’t have any better ideas!

I often find a villain point-0f-view (POV) lacking in tension, but the “behind the scenes” scenes with our bad guys in Goodbye California held my attention – partly because we don’t actually get into the mastermind’s head, and his motivations remain as mysterious for us as for the police; partly because one of the nuclear professors held hostage is such a colorful character that he keeps the momentum going (keeping these scenes from being over-heavy exposition, or simply a chance to cackle ominously).

There is a fair amount of exposition in this book. If you wanted to know anything about the fault lines in California, the use (and misuse) of nuclear fuel in the country’s power plants, or just how precarious a combination of these things could make life in the Golden State, you need look no further. Especially early in the book, great chunks of time are spent with characters laying out the exact facts for other characters.

A bit draggy, perhaps, but Sgt. Ryder pays attention through the whole thing – and uses that knowledge for his brilliant conclusion at the climax. See, kids? Pay attention in school, and you can outsmart international terrorists!

Mr. MacLean does an excellent job describing characters. The writing-nazis of today might complain that it’s “head-hopping”, or not staying strictly within one person’s point-of-view, but the vibrant language he uses to paint his people make up for it. MacLean’s writing is what my writing would be grown up – language stood on its head, forcing the audience to look at it sideways before understanding the joke, then carrying them along on a vivacious cartwheel of exposition.

There are a lot of characters, and once in a while some too-similar names got me tangled up, but the descriptions are clear and help differentiate each person. Personalities are also described, then lived out, and because we are introduced to thoroughly to begin with, we remember better who’s who.

The nuclear professor above, for instance, is a large, fiery, heavy-drinking man with a mouth like a sailor. Ryder’s wife is slender, calm, young-looking, and highly intelligent. Ryder’s son is young, upright, and not so quick as his father (probably because of his lesser experience), but they make an excellent team – and young Ryder gets to make the final brilliant plan that is their last chance against the villain’s mad schemes.

There are some caveats, I’m afraid. There’s quite an amount of sprinkled profanity. One of the bad guys is caught in bed “not alone” with a pretty young girl (nothing graphic, but anyone who knows how life works will figure out the score). And, of course, Ryder takes the law into his own hands, gets away with it, and even gets the cooperation of the official intelligence forces for his brilliant counter-offensives.

There’s plenty of humor, though, and plenty of delightful phrases and sneaky word-acrobatics. The plot ratchets up without a let-down of “Really? That’s all there was?” Punching, car-chasing, nuclear devices, destruct-buttons, mass panic of the population, out-smarting of villain masterminds…everything we expect from Alistair MacLean is here. For the mature of mind and conscience, this is a solid diversion.

Goodbye California is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and at the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

For more by the author, you can visit his Amazon page, or his Wikipedia page.

309 pages long.

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