Title: Caravan to Vaccares
Author: Alistair MacLean
MacLean, Alistair (1970). Caravan to Vaccares. London, Collins
Date Posted: June 2, 2013
Another in the string of thrillers written by Scotsman, Alistair MacLean. In general I liked his early books, but became less satisfied with every new book that came out.
This book’s story is set at the south eastern province of Provence, in France. It begins with the murder of a gypsy and it was committed by his fellow gypsies. Why? Nobody knows, but it was clear that the gypsies had something to secret which they didn’t want to be divulged and presumably, the deceased has come close to the secret. Cecile Dubois and Neil Bowman, British citizens, are also in Provence. Then there is also the Le Grand Duc, at Provence, who supposedly is a gypsy folklorist. Bowman gets curious about what these gypsies are trying to hide. He starts following the gypsy caravans, but little does he realize that he is inviting trouble for himself by doing so and that too, not only for himself, but also for Cecile.
Alistair MacLean hardly reveals the identity of his characters and Caravan to Vaccares is no exception to that. No one has any idea of who Le Grand Duc is, or what he is up to, and the case is no different when it comes to Bowman. He describes himself as a “professional idler” and some readers might just try to finish reading the book as soon as possible just to know “who” Bowman is.
It is not easy to describe any kind of a fight in words and even if one manages to do so, it might not be effective as the reader might find it difficult to imagine the scenes or comprehend what is happening. So, the author has to be appreciated for describing each duel so extensively, and personally, I had no problem in imagining the fight. That is something which I really liked about the book. A reasonable pace was maintained throughout the novel, which is an important feature of a thriller novel.
However, to me the plot was dull, and in many cases, the antagonists were being extremely foolish, which isn’t exactly the sign of an “equal contest” between the protagonist and the antagonist. Besides, in some cases, Bowman’s survival was totally unbelievable, a combination of all sorts of luck and coincidences. Some readers may not accept the way in which the author portrayed the gypsies and their culture.
Thrillers are mostly seen as a battle between “goodies and baddies” but considering “goodies”, considering Bowman’s character, he certainly isn’t the first person which would come to one’s mind. I was also not satisfied with the character descriptions as there was a high degree of imbalance. Some, like Le Grand Duc and Cecile Dubois were described so well whereas I felt most of the others were ignored, including Bowman. Any kind of digression ruins a thriller novel and the major deviation in this book is the romantic sub-plot featuring Bowman and Cecile. The Times praised Caravan to Vaccares saying “Even more action-packed than its predecessors.” I disagree. It wasn’t all that action packed, in fact, far less action-packed than most of its predecessors.