Book Review of "Puppet on a Chain"

Not everything that glitters is gold would be another evocative title for this spell-binding book by Alistair Maclean. Maclean takes us through the streets of Amsterdam where appearances are deceptive and conceal as much as reveals a sordid reality which is of violence and drug abuse where seemingly respectable characters are anything but ideal.

While its perspective on Amsterdam may be a bit dated as it was published as far back as 1969, nevertheless crime and drug abuse remain pressing concerns even from a contemporary perspective.

The plot is pretty direct centering as it does on an Interpol narcotics specialist, Paul Sherman, who arrives on some kind of a mission to Amsterdam. What that mission exactly is never becomes quite clear though some action packed sequences later he does unravel some criminals engaged in the drug trade. We suspect his friend James Duclos who is most inconveniently killed at the outset is somehow integral to whatever that mission might have been as he had information to divulge to Sherman which again most inconveniently he couldn’t as he was done away with before being able to do so.

We do however gain a perspective on some characters such as the Reverend Goodbody or the cop Van Gelder who while seemingly respectable are in fact criminals. The ‘hero’ Sherman if we can call him that is quite a jaded character and quite as ungainly as the Second World War tank he is named after. He however does have the virtue that he is able to cheat death time and time again. His accomplices such as Maggie who is pitch forked to her death are however not as lucky. Having said that I couldn’t quite see the point of having two women associates accompany Sherman on what is quite obviously a dangerous mission, even if it isn’t always clear what exactly that mission is supposed to be. There are also some seemingly pointless deaths on the way apart from Maggie’s and I couldn’t understand what exactly was the point in so many people expiring though one is told quite conveniently on the way that it was due to Sherman’s “inefficiency.”

Nor is it very clear what exactly Sherman’s relations are with his two women accomplices also obviously Interpol employees as it quite obviously isn’t one of equals and nor is it one even of ‘first among equals.’ There is a hint of the romantic which fits ill with the unfolding of quite a sinister chain of events though perhaps not unexpected considering that we are quite obviously concerned with drugs and crime in a seemingly modern Western city. Indeed what is remarkable of ‘Puppet on a Chain’ is of course that it isn’t region specific and could quite as obviously be transcribed to any other modern cosmopolitan setting where drugs and crime are involved.

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