Friday, December 3, 2010

Where eagles dare - Alistair MacLean

It is World War II, in the winter of 1943-44; U.S. Army Brigadier General George Carnaby, one of the chief planners of D-Day, is captured by the Germans when his aircraft is shot down en-route to Crete. He is taken to the Schloß Adler (The Castle of the Eagles – hence the title), a fortress high in the Alps that is headquarters of the German Secret Service in southern Bavaria. A team of mainly British commandos is assembled and briefed by Colonel Wyatt Turner and Admiral Rolland of MI6, and led by Major John Smith and US Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer. Their mission is to parachute in, infiltrate the Schloß Adler, and rescue General Carnaby before the Germans can interrogate him. Agent Mary Elison, an MI6 operative, accompanies the mission in secret.

As the mission begins, two members are mysteriously killed, but Major Smith is unperturbed and keeps Lt. Schaffer as a close ally. Contriving to get the party captured, Smith and Schaffer, being officers, are separated from Thomas, Christiansen, and Berkeley, the only three remaining NCOs. Smith and Schaffer kill their captors and blow up a supply depot before hitching a ride on a cable car - the only approach to the castle. Mary, posing as a new maid, had been brought into the castle by Heidi, an MI6 agent disguised as a barmaid in the nearby village, and Major Von Hapen, a Gestapo officer and Heidi's acquaintance, who becomes infatuated with her. Mary allows Schaffer and Smith to climb in through a window overlooking the castle's station.

Carnaby's interrogation is underway, carried out by Gen. Rosemeyer and Col. Kramer, when Thomas and the others arrive and reveale themselves to be German double agents. Smith and Schaffer intrude, but Smith betrays and disarms Schaffer, and establishes himself as "Major Johann Schmidt" of SS Military Intelligence. He exposes the identity of Carnaby - that of a U.S. Army Corporal named Cartwright Jones, posing as the real general, and also explains that Thomas and the rest are British impostors. To test them, Smith proposes they write the names of their fellow conspirators to be compared to the personal list in his pocket, and divulges the name of Germany's top agent in Britain secretly to Kramer, who silently affirms it. After the three finish their lists, Smith reveals his list to Kramer, which appears to be blank. To the room's surprise, Smith admits the rescue operation was a cover for the real mission - to discover the identities of German spies in Britain.

Meanwhile, Mary, preparing the explosives, meets von Hapen again; he takes her to the castle's cafe, and subtly forces her to recite the tale of her assumed identity. He finds faults in her story, prompting him to investigate; he happens upon the meeting just as Smith finishes his explanation, and becomes hostile. Mary's entrance distracts von Hapen enough for Schaffer to kill him and the other German officers, after which the remaining group escape. Thomas, Berkeley and Christiansen are taken prisoner. Schaffer sets explosives to create diversions around the compound and Smith leads the group to the radio room, where he informs Rolland of their success. They then battle their way to the cable car station; Thomas is sacrificed as a decoy, and Berkeley and Christiansen attempt their own escape, but Smith climbs atop the cable car they steal and destroys it with an explosive. Smith makes it back on a returning cable car and rides back down with the others, but the group abandons it mid-descent to reunite with Heidi and board a bus, prepared earlier as their escape vehicle. They drive hard to an airfield with soldiers in hot pursuit, and barely make it onto a disguised extraction plane, where Colonel Turner is waiting for them.

Smith briefs Turner on the mission and confirms a suspicion he and Rolland had shared since before the start - that Turner is the top Nazi agent in Britain, whose name the late Kramer had agreed to before; Turner had been lured into participating so MI6 could expose him, with Mary (Smith's trusted partner) and Schaffer (an American with no connection to MI6) specially assigned to the team to ensure the mission's success. Deciding to save face, Turner commits suicide by jumping out the plane.

Its a classic thriller by MacLean which has been made in to a movie in 1968. Full of action and suspense. Until you read half  the book, you'll never realize what Smith is after. A little misleading too in the end. I felt like I was watching an old Dr.Rajkumar movie with CID storyline performed by Golmaal - 3 crew. Read it with patience. You'll enjoy!

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