Sunday, March 26, 2023

Ian MacAlister's Valley of the Assassins

Valley of the Assassins from 1975 was the last of the four thrillers written by Marvin Albert under the name Ian MacAlister and published by Fawcett Gold Medal.

Marvin Albert (1924-1996) was an American who wrote both adventure and crime thrillers.

Rick Larson is heading through the Persian Gulf in his cabin cruiser when he comes across three dead men on a reef. Except that one of them isn’t dead. Larson is no philanthropist but he is a sailor. He can’t leave the guy there so he rescues him. The guy is a Persian. And he has a map. The map ends up in Larson’s possession. It’s a strange map. It will need interpreting.

Larson has a friend who’s a scholar and his interpretation of the map is extraordinary. That map holds the key to the lost treasure of the Assassins. The assassins being a combination of religious cultists and murderous gangsters. The order was founded in 1072 and brutally suppressed a few centuries later. The order no longer exists. At least it’s believed that it no longer exists.

Much of the treasure accumulated by the Assassins in their mountain lair at Alamut was hidden somewhere in the Arabian desert. There’s no way of finding it unless you have a map. Larson has a map. But you have to know how to make sense of the map. Larson thinks he can do just that.

He has a number of people helping him in his search for the treasure, and most of them are people he doesn’t want as partners and doesn’t trust. Men like the renegade Iraqi secret policeman Hammid and an arms dealer named Ivo. He does trust Church. He’s an old friend. He thinks he can trust Darra, maybe, up to a point. She’s a Kurdish guerrilla. The Kurds want the treasure to buy arms. He doesn’t really trust Jamil, another Kurdish guerrilla. But Larson doesn’t trust most people. That’s why he’s survived so long in such a dangerous part of the world.

What worries Rick Larson is that he isn’t being followed. It doesn’t make sense. He should have bad guys shadowing him, but they aren’t there. It’s very strange, especially since early on someone did try to kill him. A young man with a strange tattoo and a poisoned dagger.

The search for the treasure will take Larson to Alamut, and it will take these six people to the most remote and forbidding desert in the world. The desert itself will be a formidable enemy. There’s also the cheering news that Bedouin bandits have been active in the area recently and they can be very dangerous indeed.

In the 60s Alistair MacLean had established himself as the world’s foremost thriller writer. Naturally he had imitators. The best of the imitators was Gavin Lyall but Desmond Bagley was pretty good as well. It’s obvious (and his choice of pseudonym makes it even more obvious) that with his Ian McAlister novels Albert was setting himself up as yet another MacLean imitator. While he never achieved the reputation that Lyall and Bagley achieved I have to say that the Ian McAlister thrillers compare more than favourably with those writers.

He’s not as good as MacLean of course but he’s still very very good. Like MacLean he’s good with exotic and inhospitable settings which become almost characters in the books, and his plotting is very sound. The action sequences in Valley of the Assassins are excellent. The tension is built up very effectively.

Valley of the Assassins is quite simply an absolutely top-notch thriller. Highly recommended.

I’ve also reviewed Driscoll’s Diamonds, the second of the Ian MacAlister adventure thrillers, and it’s excellent as well. And I’ve reviewed one of the Jake Barrow PI thrillers he wrote under the pseudonym Nick Quarry, No Chance in Hell, and it’s very good as well.

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