Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Hammond Innes is back in print

A chap who writes books for other chaps gets a welcome reissue.

Sun, Jun 9, 2013, 21:36


One of the key writers of post-war men’s mens books made for men is back in print. And I don’t mean stupid fake virtual print. The books of Hammond Innes are all on sale from Vintage Books. I would say that nobody much cares, but somebody, somewhere must give a hoot if the things have all turned up on actual paper and everything.

Innes (1913-1998) occupied the middle rung in a hierarchy of British adventure writers who excited boys and men from the 1940s to the 1980s. Desmond Bagely was less famous than Innes who was less famous than Alistair MacLean, the master of the cabal. They all wrote stories involving spies, boats and war. Unlike Ian Fleming, they never had much to do with sex (or women at all really) and only rarely dipped into racism (though you could rarely trust Germans in their books). Unlike John le Carré, they didn’t see the need to dabble in moral ambiguity. The rugged chap in the wheelhouse knew what the heck he was up to. If you wanted to summon up some sort of tradition you could see them as successors to the mighty John Buchan.

For some reason, their reputation didn’t really survive the cultural readjustments of the 1970s. Fleming’s cold irony — though shrouded in reactionary fury — was more appropriate for an era that felt itself slightly ludicrous. Le Carré’s unmistakable cynicism chimed with the post-war British decline.

An yet. I loved all three writers. They were a great deal less pompous than detail-hungry lunatics such as Tom Clancy. By golly, they wrote better prose than Dan Brown. (Who or what doesn’t, I hear you ask.) You will, of course, know MacLean’s stories from cracking bank-holiday-afternoon adaptations such as Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. Bagely’s The Freedom Trap inspired John Huston’s famous (can we say notorious?) The Mackintosh Man.

Innes’s books were also much adapted. But, sadly, few of the films were hits. Alfred Hitchcock spent some time working on a version of The Wreck of the Mary Deare, but it eventually ended up as a stodgy Michael Anderson picture.

Anyway, the original book is a cracker and it is one of those republished by Vintage.  It isnow the summer. As I understand it, at this time of year people other than me pack “beach reads” to distract them while trapped in some ghastly resort or other. You could do a great deal worse.

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