Book Review – South by Java Head – Alistair MacLean

A small group of soldiers, nurses, civilians, and a lost little boy escape the advancing Japanese army in Sinapore in a small ship. Their hopeful destination, Australia. In their way, enemies, both known and unknown.

Written in 1957, South by Java Head was Alistair MacLean‘s third novel, and like his first two, HMS Ulysses & The Guns of Navarone, is set during World War II. A varied group of characters are thrown together under increasing danger and strife. I believe South by Java Head is the first time that Bosun McKinnon is used as a character name as well as Van Effen. Both names would be re-used at least twice more in future books.

The plot is one of MacLean’s more twisty affairs, and with each twist, the tension is turned up a notch to the point where you almost can’t take it. A good portion of the story takes place at sea, and a part of that, in a lifeboat, which of course reminds the reader of Life of Pi. Whereas the Life of Pi often felt hopeful and wonderful, South by Java Head is the complete opposite, with the characters suffering mentally and physically. If you have bought into the characters and their plight then these passages are painful to read.

One thing I have noticed since I became a father, any book with a small boy affects me differently than when I read the book before I had children. Another small way that children change you!

South by Java Head is a great book, filled with brilliant characters, a twisty plot that keeps the reader holding their breath and enough action for anyone to enjoy.

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