17 Best Alistair MacLean Books You Need to Get Today

Get to know one of the best suspense authors of the 20th century. Check out our list of the 15 best Alistair MacLean books to discover his work for yourself.

Alistair Stuart MacLean is a famous author known for his short stories published as simple novels. Born in 1922 and dying in 1987, he was a prolific writer with nearly 30 books to his name at the time of his death. He ranks among the best crime thriller authors because of his masterful use of suspense throughout his books. MacLean was a prolific author, but some of his books were not credited to him initially because he wrote under the pen name Ian Stuart.

His first book, HMS Ulysses, was published in 1955, and his last book, Santorini, hit the bookshelves in 1986, just a year before his death. Two books, Rendezvous and Dead Halt, were published after his death, with Alistar MacNeill helping finish them. Though his books span everything from murder mysteries to war sagas, they are similar in that they are packed with suspense and often have surprises and twists to keep the reader guessing.

1. The Guns of Navarone

The Guns of Navarone was published in 1957, and it tells a fictional story of what happened when the entire navy failed to stop the attacks on Navarone. To try to find success, they sent in an elite team of just five men. Each of these assassins were well-skilled at handing out death. Though the storyline is fictitious, this war story is set in World War II during the battles of the Aegean Sea that were very real. This was the first book in a series that shares its name. 

“There are no brave men and cowardly men in the world, my son. There are only brave men. To be born, to live, to die—that takes courage enough in itself, and more than enough.”

Alistair MacLean
The Guns of Navarone
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 08/08/2019 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

2. Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare is a 1967 novel by Alistair MacLean, it has page-turning action as it follows British Special Forces into the Austrian Alps as they look to infiltrate Nazi intelligence headquarters. GoodReads says that this book set the pace for the modern action thriller and was eventually made into a Clint Eastwood film.

“This won’t look so good in my obituary,” Schaffer said dolefully. There was a perceptible edge of strain under the lightly-spoken words.” Gave his life for his country in a ladies’ lavatory in Upper Bavaria.”

Alistair MacLean
Sale
Where Eagles Dare
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 354 Pages - 10/17/2019 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

3. Ice Station Zebra

Ice Station Zebra, MacLean’s 1963 novel, takes readers into the Arctic Ocean and the ice floes that call this area home. The men manning weather station Zebra are drifting on an ice pack in mortal danger. The submarine Dolphin is sent to rescue them, only to find a more profound mystery involving sabotage and a killer on the loose.

“He walked the length of the gleaming torpedoes and halted before another steel door in a cross bulkhead. He opened this, and beyond, four feet away, was another such heavy door set in another such bulkhead.”

Alistair MacLean
Ice Station Zebra
  • Alistair MacLean (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 10/17/2019 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

4. The Last Frontier

Though Alistair is known for his war tales set in the Second World War, The Last Frontier, published in 1959, takes a stab at the Cold War era. This book shows why he is among the top crime thriller authors. It weaves danger and suspense into a story about secret agent Michael Reynolds who is on an undercover mission behind the Iron Curtain to rescue Doctor Jennings, a world-renowned scientist and the person holding an important secret.

If you enjoyed our guide to the best Alistair MacLean books, we have many more articles on the best suspense authors. Check out our list of the best authors like John Grisham. If you want to explore our selection of the best authors from different genres, you can search best authors from our search bar.

“The intolerance of ignorance, not wanting to know – that is the last real frontier on earth.”

Alistair MacLean
Sale
The Last Frontier
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 07/28/2020 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

5. When Eight Bells Toll

When Eight Bells Toll hit publication in 1966, it is an all-time classic that sends the British Secret Service in to investigate gold bullion that is getting pirated in the Irish Sea. This book is quite suspenseful and has dry humor that will cause readers to chuckle as they follow the action.

“I should have listened to Hunslett. Again I should have listened to Hunslett. And again for Hunslett’s sake. But I didn’t know then that Hunslett was to have time for all the sleep in the world.”

Alistair MacLean
When Eight Bells Toll
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 07/28/2020 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

6. Fear Is the Key

Fear Is the Key is a story of revenge. In it, a man named Talbot searches for a DC-3 that is sunken on the floor of the Caribbean Sea. With it are four murdered people and a large treasure, but a gangster, oilman, and the Mafia all want to keep Talbot from reaching it. This book, published in 1961, keeps readers guessing page after page.

“She had the best kind of courage, or maybe the worst kind, the kind that gets you into trouble.”

Alistair MacLean
Fear Is the Key
  • Hardcover Book
  • Alistair MacLean (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 264 Pages - 06/06/2005 (Publication Date) - Amereon Ltd (Publisher)

7. Goodbye California

A criminal takes on the task of blasting San Francisco into the ocean in Goodbye California. The criminal mastermind kidnaps a nuclear scientist to build atomic bombs. By planting them along the fault lines, the theory is that he could set off the biggest earthquake in California’s history, sending the city into the ocean. MacLean added this book to his collection of work in 1977.

“The area where the maximum damage had occurred lay only a few miles to the north and I drove out to see it, but not until the following day.”

Alistair MacLean
Goodbye California
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 448 Pages - 12/01/2020 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

8. Bear Island

Bear Island, MacLean’s 1971 work, sends the Morning Rose, a fishing trawler, into the Arctic Circle to film a movie. Along the way, the movie crew and ship’s company start dying off. Marlowe, the ship’s doctor, finds himself in the middle of a murder plot that is somehow tied to World War II. The plot becomes very suspenseful and increases when the crew is sent to Bear Island, where no law enforcement can reach them.

“The only safe guide, I’d discovered, was to assume that the truth ended almost immediately.”

Alistair MacLean
Bear Island
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 10/06/2020 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

9. Caravan to Vaccares

Caravan to Vaccares is set in Provence in southern France, where gypsies make an annual pilgrimage each year. For this particular year, many mysterious deaths come to light, and Cecile Dubois and Neil Bowman head in to investigate. This leads to a tale of danger and murder in an exotic European location. The first publication of this novel was in 1970.

“When one searches any place, be it a gypsy caravan or a baronial mansion, methodically and exhaustively, one has to wreck it completely in the process.”

Alistair MacLean
Sale
Caravan to Vaccares
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 258 Pages - 02/10/1999 (Publication Date) - Isis Large Print Books (Publisher)

10. The Dark Crusader

In 1961, Alistair MacLean set up the story of a criminal mastermind who seeks his victims through job advertisements. In The Dark Crusader, the killer sets out ads for specialists in modern technology, requiring they are married without children. Each of the eight applicants chosen disappears until secret agent John Bentall takes the case to stop the criminal in his tracks.

“The advertisement was for a fuels expert; the job was in Australia and the salary was astronomical.”

Alistair MacLean
The Dark Crusader
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 09/22/2020 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

11. The Golden Rendezvous

When an atomic scientist goes missing on a luxury cruise, First Officer John Carter must figure out the mystery. The Golden Rendezvous tells this tale with plenty of adventure and an international flair. The book has several twists and turns that keep the readers guessing through each page.

“My shirt was no longer a shirt but just a limp and sticky rag soaked with sweat. My feet ached from the fierce heat of the steel deck plates.”

Alistair MacLean
The Golden Rendezvous. Heron edition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Alistair MacLean (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/01/1900 (Publication Date) - HERON BOOKS (Publisher)

12. Puppet on a Chain

Puppet on a Chain hit bookshelves in 1969. This book is set in Amsterdam, where Paul Sherman from Interpol heads out to try to catch a drug smuggler. Plenty of mysteries are woven throughout, and it is clear that at the head of it all is a psychopath who has no mercy. Many book reviewers consider this book to be one of the classic works of the bestselling author.

“I hope you know what you are doing,’ van Gelder said. He sounded grave. ‘You hope,’ I said. ‘How do you think I feel?’ Neither of them said how they thought I felt.”

Alistair MacLean
Puppet on a Chain
  • Hardcover Book
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 210 Pages - 12/01/2001 (Publication Date) - Amereon Ltd (Publisher)

13. The Way to Dusty Death

The 1973 novel The Way to Dusty Death detours from the war suspense novels common to MacLean. Instead, this one tells the story of Johnny Harlow, a world-champion Formula One racecar driver. When he appears to be the cause of an accident, he unearths a conspiracy that has nothing to do with cars, though it puts drivers at serious risk with every race.

“His own car, from which he had been miraculously thrown clear, uninjured, just before it had overturned lay, of all places, in its own Coronoado pits.”

Alistair MacLean
Sale
The way to dusty death
  • Hardcover Book
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 222 Pages - 02/10/1973 (Publication Date) - Collins (Publisher)

14. Seawitch

Seawitch is a story of revenge and murder. The setting is an oil rig owned by Lord Worth. The predatory rich man has two daughters he loves, but he cares for little else. They come into the line of fire when someone they had wronged in the past comes back for revenge.

“In certain places and among certain people, the Seawitch was a very bad name indeed. But, overwhelmingly, their venom was reserved for a certain Lord Worth.”

Alistair MacLean
Seawitch
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 06/15/2021 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

15. River of Death

River of Death takes place in the jungles of Brazil, where the main character, Hamilton, is asked to take a millionaire on a quest to find a lost city. What they find is more than just some treasure. They find a conspiracy that dates back to a former war in Europe. This short and action-packed book is one of his later works, published in 1981.

“We, ironically known as the civilizados – in practically everything that matters they’re a damned sight more civilized than we are – bring them so-called progress, which harms them, so-called change, which harms them, so-called civilization, which harms them even more, and disease, which kills them.”

Alistair MacLean
River of Death
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 07/06/2021 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

16. Air Force One Is Down

Air Force One Is Down is part of MacLean’s UNACO series. It opens with the premise that someone has destroyed Air Force One. The UNACO team must figure out what happened, who pulled the trigger, and whether or not everyone is truly dead. This book was co-written with John Denis and was published in 1981.

“No natural light penetrated the cell, for he was a Category A convict, rating a top-security tomb. No everyday sounds of the world outside reached his ears through the solid old walls of Fresnes Prison.”

Alistair MacLean/John Dennis
Sale
Air Force One is Down (Alistair MacLean’s UNACO)
  • Denis, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 01/20/2015 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

17. Lawrence of Arabia 

Lawrence of Arabia is one of the non-fiction books written by MacLean. Published in 1962, it tells the story of Lawrence of Arabia; MacLean uses his story-telling style and adventure writing to make this feel more like an adventure novel than a biography. If you liked this post, check out our round-up of the best authors like Lee Child. Want to find more authors? Just search ‘authors like’ in our search bar.

“He must have courage, not the physical courage required on a battlefield but the moral courage to make and carry out decisions that might directly counter to the wishes of his superiors. He must have great willpower. and, perhaps above all, he must have the gift of leadership.”

Alistair MacLean
Sale
Sterling Point Books: Lawrence of Arabia
  • MacLean, Alistair (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 08/28/2006 (Publication Date) - Union Square Kids (Publisher)

FAQs About The Best Alistair MacLean Books

What was Alistair MacLean’s occupation?

Alistair MacLean was a Scottish novelist. Before becoming a writer, he served in the Royal Navy during World War II. After his discharge, he worked as a street sweeper and Post Office worker. He also worked as a teacher and hospital porter.

How many books did Alistair MacLean write?

Alistair MacLean wrote 29 bestselling novels. He knew how to write a thriller, and his books continue to be popular today long after his death in 1987. Guns of Navarone is one of his most popular series, and it has a total of four books.

Discover more books you will love by checking out our guide with the best crime thriller authors!

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