Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Golden Rendezvous (by Alistair MacLean) – pure fun

My rating: 9/10

This was the fourth, or maybe fifth(?), time I have read The Golden Rendezvous. And it was as great as ever. Lots of good humour. Lots of action. Lots of mystery. Lots of great characters. Pure fun.

However, there are some things that are a little unbelievable and this is why my rating is not perfect but “only” very good. On the other hand it’s a very strong 9/10 rating, close to perfect 10/10, and those little things are in fact a very low price for all the entertainment this book delivers.

Below are my favourite, spoiler-free quotes. There are a lot of them, but they only show a tip of an iceberg of great ideas and motives in this novel. Enjoy!

    I was unhappy. The crew were unhappy. The passengers were unhappy. Captain Bullen was unhappy and this last made me doubly unhappy because when things went wrong with Captain Bullen he invariably took it out on his chief officer. I was his chief officer.

     “Good afternoon, Mr. First Officer,” she said sweetly. She had a soft musical voice with hardly a hint of superiority or condescension when talking to the lower orders like myself, “We’ve been wondering where you were. You are not usually an absentee at aperitif time.”
     “I know, Miss Beresford. I’m sorry.” What she said was true enough: what she didn’t know was that I turned up for aperitifs with the passengers more or less at the point of a gun. Standing company orders stated that it was as much part of the ship’s officers’ duties to entertain the passengers as to sail the ship, and as Captain Bullen loathed all passengers with a fierce and total loathing he saw to it that most of the entertaining fell to me. (…)

     (…), I caught sight of Captain Bullen perched on top of the companionway leading down from the main deck. “Glowering” would probably be the most apt term to describe the expression on his face. As he came down the companionway and passed Miss Beresford he made a heroic effort to twist his features into a semblance of a smile and managed to hold it for all of two seconds until he had passed her by, then got back to his glowering again. For a man who is dressed in gleaming whites from top to toe to give the impression of a black approaching thundercloud is no small feat, but Captain Bullen managed it without any trouble. He was a big man, six feet two and very heavily built, with sandy hair and eyebrows, a smooth red face that no amount of sun could ever tan and a clear blue eye that no amount of whiskey could ever dim. He looked at the quayside, the hold and then at me, all with the same impartial disfavour.
     “Well, Mister,” he said heavily. “How’s it going? Miss Beresford giving you a hand, eh?” When he was in a bad mood, it was invariably “Mister”: in a neutral mood, it was “First”: and when in a good mood – which, to be fair, was most of the time – it was always “Johnny-me-boy”. But today it was “Mister”. I took my guard accordingly and ignored the implied reproof of time-wasting. He would be gruffly apologetic the next day. He always was.

     “Petty larceny on the part of the individual is theft,” Captain Bullen said morosely. “When governments engage in grand larceny, it’s economics.”

    And in Kingston the blow had fallen. We had no sooner arrived than the harbour authorities had come on board requesting that a search party from the American destroyer lying almost alongside be allowed to examine the Campari. The search party, about forty of them, were already lined up on the deck of the destroyer.
    They were still there four hours later. Captain Bullen, in a few well-chosen words that carried far and clear over the sunlit waters of Kingston harbour, had told the authorities that if the United States Navy proposed, in broad daylight, to board a British Mercantile Marin vessel in a British harbour, then they were welcome to try. They were also welcome, he had added, to suffer, apart from injuries and the loss of blood they would incur in the process, the very heavy penalties which would be imposed by an international court of maritime law arising from charges ranging from assault, through piracy to an act of war: which maritime court, Captain Bullen had added pointedly, had its seat not in Washington D.C., but in The Hague, Holland.
    This stopped them cold. The authorities withdraw to consult with the Americans. Coded cables, as we learnt later, were exchanged with Washington and London. Captain Bullen remained adamant. Our passengers, 90 per cent. of them Americans, gave him their enthusiastic support. (…)

    It had started off simply enough in the early fifties with an earlier Blue Mail vessel, the s.s. Brandywine. (For some strange whimsy, explicable only on a psycho-analysts’ couch, Lord Dexter himself a rabid teetotaller, had elected to name his various ships after divers wines and other spirituous liquors.) The Brandywine had been one of the two Blue Mail vessels engaged on a regular run between New York and various British possessions in the West Indies, and Lord Dexter, eyeing the luxury cruise liners which plied regularly between New York and the Caribbean and seeing no good reason why he shouldn’t elbow his way into this lucrative dollar-earning market, had some extra cabins fitted on the Brandywine and advertised them in a few select American newspapers and magazines, making it quite plain that he was interested only in Top People. Among attractions offered had been a complete absence of bands, dances, concerts, fancy-dress balls, swimming pools, tombola, deck games, sight-seeing and parties – only a genius could have made such desirable and splendidly resounding virtues out of things he didn’t have anyway. (…)
    The initial success of the scheme was fantastic. In stock exchange parlance, the issue was oversubscribed a hundred times. This was intolerable Lord Dexter; (…). He doubled his prices. It made no difference. He trebled them and in the process made the gratifying discovery that there were many people in the world who would pay literally almost anything not only to be different and exclusive but to be known to be different and exclusive. (…)

    He grunted and said: “Nothing I can do to help?” Half-question, half-statement.
     “No, sir.” The sight of the captain searching about the upper deck or peering under lifeboat covers would do nothing to increase the passengers’ confidence in the Campari.
     “Right then, Mister. If you want me, I’ll be in the telegraph lounge. I’ll try to keep the passengers out of your hair while you’re getting on with it.” That showed he was worried all right, and badly worried: he’d just as soon have gone into a cage full of Bengal tigers as mingle socially with the passengers.

     (…) Rusty, our youngest apprentice, went aft to work his way for’ard, accompanied by Miss Beresford, who had probably guessed, and rightly, that I was in no mood for her company. But Rusty was. He always was. Nothing that Susan Beresford said to or about him made the slightest difference to him. He was her slave and didn’t care who knew it. If she’d asked him to jump down the funnel, just for her sake, he’d have considered it an honour. I could just imagine him searching about the upper decks with Susan Beresford by his side, his face the same colour as his flaming shock of hair.

    Bullen looked at me without expression, looked at his drink, evidently decided that he preferred his drink to me – or the ill news I brought with me – and knocked down back the contents in a couple of gulps.

    When I awoke, it was twenty minutes to one. Not that I was immediately aware of the time when I awoke: I wasn’t immediately and clearly aware of anything. It’s difficult to be aware of anything when your head is being squeezed between the jaws of a giant vice and your eyes have gone blind, to be aware of anything, that is, except the vice and the blindness. (…)
     “Take it easy, sir. You just take it easy.” The man with the sponge must have a long arm, he was at least two miles away, but I recognised the voice for all that. Archie MacDonald. “Don’t you try moving now. Just you wait a bit. You’ll be all right, sir.”
     “Archie?” We were a real disembodied pair, I thought fuzzily. I was at least a couple of miles away, too. I only hoped we were a couple of miles away in the same direction. (…)

    I retired defeated to the bridge and took over from Jamison. Almost an hour later elapsed before another defeated man came to the bridge: Captain Bullen. He didn’t have to tell me he was defeated: it was written on him, in the sill, troubled face, the slight sag of the broad shoulders. And mute headshake from me told him all he needed to know. I made a mental note, in the not unlikely event of Lord Dexter turfing us both out of the Blue Mail, to turn down any suggestions by Captain Bullen that we should go into a detective agency together: there might be faster ways of starving, perhaps, but none more completely certain.

     “I’ll tell you when I come back.”
     “If you come back.” He went to his dispensary, came back with hypodermic and injected some pale fluid. “Against all my instincts, this. It’ll ease the pain, no doubt about that, but it will also permit you to overstrain your leg and cause permanent damage.”
     “Not half as permanent as being dead.”

    The gun lifted a trifle. The direct no-nonsense type, he didn’t believe in fancy speeches. Shoot them and be done with it. (…) My bad leg was under me and I couldn’t get up. I stared into the beam of light, into the black muzzle of the gun. I stopped breathing and tensed myself. Tensing yourself against a .38 fired from a distance of five feet is a great help but I wasn’t feeling very logical at the moment.

(Sunday, 13 April 2014)

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