I have thoroughly enjoyed Alistair MacLean’s adventure books in the past, but this one was just kind of eh. A little too testosteroney, I guess, but I should’ve expected that from a book about race car drivers.
Harlow is the best race car driver in the world. He drives for the Coronado company, which has grown in stature as he has. MacAlpine, the boss, has a beautiful young waifish daughter (Mary) who flirts with Harlow. Everything is hunky dory! Until another car explodes after a bad wreck on the track, killing the driver and casting suspicion on Harlow.
Things get worse for Harlow at an astonishing pace. He starts showing up in public places drunk, losing races, behaving erratically, and losing the respect of his fellow drivers and everyone at Coronado. Except the reader knows that he’s faking it all, trying to draw out a mysterious bad guy out to do mysterious bad things.
The story is told weirdly, like the reader is half in on it, but not enough to care about what’s going on. Who are the villains? Why is Harlow tanking his reputation and career, pretending to be a reckless drunk? Why is the only female character in the entire book such a drip? The reveals feel clunky, like he was trying to write a spy novel but couldn’t figure out when the clues should happen. So I didn’t love the book overall, but then Mary is AWFUL. She cries, she swoons against Harlow’s chest, she whimpers at her father about what a good man Harlow is, she gets rescued a ton. The book was written in 1974, but it’s so aggressively, monumentally sexist and stupid it feels even older than that. Mary has no agency and no character traits besides ‘brunette’ and ‘into Harlow.’ Even when she thinks he’s a drunk who’s possibly gotten other drivers killed. Sigh.
Not my favorite MacLean by far, but The Way to Dusty Death is an awesome title.