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Book Name: The Golden Gate

Author: Vikram Seth

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Overall Rating: (3.2/5) View all reviews (total 5 reviews)

'Startlingly good...tense...ingenious' Sunday Express 'Alistair MacLean is a magnificent storyteller' Sunday Mirror--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A Bridge Too Far-Fetched?

by Bill Slocum

A criminal mastermind has commandeered a bus containing the President of the United States and two Arab envoys and has parked it in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. If his ransom demands aren't met, he threatens to kill his hostages and destroy the bridge. Little does he know one of the reporters covering the event is not who he seems...Reading this 1976 novel by Alistair MacLean leaves me wondering if the late thriller author is putting us his readers on intentionally. It's a singularly strange tale, where the bad guys are as sympathetic as the good guys and a strange casualness pervades the scene of the crime, as caterers and reporters mingle freely with hostage-takers who smile for photographs. Most books of this type come with a high body count, but here people are more likely to drop dead from food poisoning than a bullet wound."I've never been responsible for anybody's death in my life," says the chief villain, a fellow named Branson who, like the famous later real-life billionaire of the same name, brings a lot of impressive dash to his work. It's the kind of boast you don't expect, and appropriate to a novel more than a little off-beam from beginning to end.The usual MacLean minuses are in evidence here: Leaden characterization, convenient plot twists, an unconvincing romantic subplot. But at least he was trying something different, and maybe anticipating the hyper-media age where hijackings are television events and schemers double as spin doctors.If only MacLean's humor was in better evidence. Then again, maybe it is. It's possible MacLean is parodying himself here. Critics of the time noted his books had everyone speaking in British idioms, even the Americans, so here's an American doctor who apologizes for his British expressions by saying he was educated in England. The slipcover of my first edition has some text on the back about an American battleship being used as a "45,000-ton battering ram," with some accompanying breathless text MacLean obviously furnished himself. It only appears on the slipcover, however, there's no such scene or ship in the pages of the book. You get the feeling MacLean was smirking about that subterfuge, all the way to the bank.Despite not being sure where its author is coming from, "Golden Gate" satisfies, in its purehearted Boys' Own way. Other books of this kind derive suspense from who gets killed. Here, you worry more that anyone will get killed, which is a good deal healthier for society and harder for a thriller writer to pull off. MacLean does seem to be having fun, and you will, too, as long as you don't take this any more seriously than he did.

Between Pillars of Fortune

by Christopher "chrysaetos"

"I've always maintained that all Presidential candidates should undergo an IQ test." Would that this were the first sentence of The Golden Gate! Alas, it appears on page 135, spoken like a true criminal mastermind with the fortitude of a German tank. This is Peter Branson, the man behind an admittedly complex presidential kidnapping, who spits (smoothly!) this remark to the President's face, he who asked a question meant to confirm his worst fear: his life, and those of several important Arabian representatives, a shiek, and an oil king, hangs by a thread.Half a billion dollars is required payment for their lives. MacLean chose a sum that may have seemed exorbitant in 1976, but still holds as incredibly high for a tale told nearly 30 years later.MacLean is in near-top form as he takes the reader through the antagonists' point of view, their set-up, and how they nab the president in the very middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. Only then does Agent Paul Revson arrive (and in an unexpected way). His affiliation with MacLean's greatest heroes (Michael Reynolds, Peter Mason, John Carter) could be that of a direct bloodline; his flaws make him human, but his extravagant conception of Branson's downfall makes him a military genius. The true Army of One.The first paragraph is a little deviant---straying from MacLean's signature first sentence idioms---written in a peculiar checklist method. I mention this only because I am aware of MacLean's slight decline in effective storytelling which many have claimed began with The Way to Dusty Death, a title I have yet to read, but I will dispute this notion: Breakheart Pass, Circus, and The Golden Gate are as fabulous, if less character driven, than his earlier books. The Golden Gate is no exception, surpassing Circus in scope and suspense!Keep an eye out for General Carter. The last name is carried over from the hero of The Golden Rendezvous. My dictionary dash consisted of rubicund (116). I read the 1976 Fawcett Crest edition.

An improbable kidnapping


With a surgically military precision Peter Branson and his men plan the kidnapping of the President of the US and his two guests from the Middle East, a prince and a king. The kidnapping is to take place in the middle of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and Branson is expecting a large ransom if everything goes according to his plan.A rather unrealistic adventure story.

Still Another Innovative Use for the Golden Gate

by Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat"

MacLean was a master of the suspense thriller for many years, with The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, The Satan Bug, and many other fine works. I read most of his works a long time ago, but found that for some reason I'd missed this one, written fairly late in his career.Unhappily, this is not the best of his works. The scenario is semi-plausible, with a rich and very intelligent villain, Branson, out to make even more money and lots of fame by holding the President and some Arab oil leaders hostage in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge - and the bridge itself is part of the hostage party, as Branson threatens to blow it up. It's Branson's apparent need for fame that allows the plot to develop, as Revson, an FBI agent posing as a reporter, is allowed to remain with the party on the bridge. The battle of wits and happenstance is joined, with Branson sure that he has all contingencies covered while Revson keeps coming up with innovative ways to undermine Branson's position.As a plot, not bad. But there are problems:First is the level of characterization, which is pretty minimal. I wanted to see a lot more about what makes Branson tick and how Revson not only got to be so competent but what his emotional well-springs were, but I didn't get it. Other characters are almost stick figures, there to move the plot and little else.Second is the level of research that MacLean did for this book. Part of the scheme required Branson to be able to monitor aircraft traffic around the bridge. For this purpose MacLean had Branson's force overtake the "Mt. Tamalpias radar stations". Now it so happens that at the time this book was written, I was actually stationed there - except there was only one radar site (that plural is not a typo as it's repeated in a couple of places), and the actual name of the site was Mill Valley Air Force Station. Worse, the type of radars in use at that site were long-range radars, and not very good for monitoring small low-flying aircraft only a few miles away. Nor could someone just `walk in' and take over the site - it was guarded. Now this is minor item in terms of the overall plot, but the errors here left me wondering about the quality level of the rest of the research in this book.Third is the plausibility of someone having enough connections to be able to gather all the required information about routes, security procedures, times, agency staffing, vehicles, and everything else needed to be able to intercept and overpower a Presidential convoy. MacLean does a pretty good job of trying to support this scenario, but I was still left with that niggling feeling of doubt about it. Right along with this first implausibility is the thunderstorm that occurs that allow certain actions by the good guys to be plausibly explained away to Branson. Hello, thunderstorms in the Bay Area? Yes, they do happen, but they are pretty darn rare, and almost never at the level of activity that this one supposedly had. Plus it smacked of way too much coincidence, happening just when the good guys needed it.As a suspense novel with modern terrorist overtones, this is not bad. It does keep you reading to find out what happens next. But it could have been a lot better with deeper characters and better research.---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)

100 percent plot, 0 percent everything else, but still fun

by Tung Yin

Almost every major thriller plot has been written in some form by Alistair MacLean, from the commando team sent on an impossible mission ("The Guns of Navarone," "Where Eagles Dare," "Force Ten from Navarone"), hijacking on the open seas ("The Golden Rendezvous"), the killer virus in the hands of an insane terrorist ("The Satan Bug"), terrorists planning to cause a super-quake in California ("Goodbye California"), and various undercover secret agent missions.In "The Golden Gate," a crack team of criminals led by mastermind Peter Branson executes a daring plan to kidnap the President of the United States on San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. Branson and his men block off both ends of the bridge, wire it with explosives, and demand millions of dollars . . . plus a pardon. Any rescue attempts will result in the detonation of the explosives, killing the President and destroying the Golden Gate Bridge.But Branson is an ego-maniac, and he can't resist attention from the media. So he not only lets, but actually invites, the press to stay on the bridge and cover the story. Too bad for Branson that one of the journalists is actually FBI Special Agent Paul Revson.The game is underway: Can Revson disable the explosives and stop the plot? Will Branson discover that Revson is really an agent?There's no characterization to speak of, and as a writer, MacLean is passable but nothing special. Still, read solely for its plot, "The Golden Gate" is fun and diverting.

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