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South by Java Head
Alistair MacLean
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South by Java Head

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  1,774 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, each with a secret to guard, each willing to kill to keep that secret safe. Who or what is the dissolute Englishman, Farnholme? The elegant Dutch pl ...more
Mass Market Paperback, Fawcett Crest 20577-0, 256 pages
Published June 12th 1984 by Fawcett (first published 1958)
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Quite enjoyed this part sea faring adventure set during the second world war. A hand full of "survivors" battle insurmountable odds against the might of the Japanese when fleeing the fall of Singapore.

I enjoyed trying to second guess the motives of many of the characters and was never quite sure who might very well turn out to be the "bad guy". The author did a excellent job of keeping the tension ratcheted throughout.

My only negatives that I felt detracted from a rollicking good yarn were the
Dec 05, 2012 Feliks rated it it was ok
Shelves: genre-thrillers
Its interesting to investigate MacLean's early novels to see the original formulation of all the hackneyed narrative conventions and action-cliches that he came to rely on later in his career. That's the main thing I got out of this novel.

MacLean is definitely one of the oddest of the successful thriller writers to come out of WWII. Some of his works ('Guns of Navarone') have themes latent within them which can be raised to greatness. Most of his novels are simply workmanlike, filled technically
Sep 03, 2011 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, adventure
An Alistair MacLean story I'd not read previously. Excellent, MacLean at his very best. From the first moment, it was a tense, thrilling adventure; a group of British men and women escaping from Singapore during WWII in the face of the Japanese invasion. Going from threat to threat, displaying understated heroism and growth, the characters are interesting and well-presented. I liked the surprises and twists and ultimately the whole story. Excellent.
Interesting author, MacLean. He began his career with three WWII novels, the classics HMS Ulysses and Guns of Navarrone, along with the lesser known South By Java Head. He then switched gears and produced a series of six contemporary (at their time) novels using the sardonic, first person tough-guy style for which he is perhaps best remembered (for better or worse). From there, it was back to the third person for his next four books, all relative classics including the excellent Ice Station Zebr ...more
Madhulika Liddle
On the night of February 14, 1942, Singapore has been bombed so thoroughly by the Japanese that little survives. More importantly, little in the way of transport out of Singapore—and transport is what Brigadier Farnholme urgently needs, because after many months of trying, Farnholme has finally managed to obtain the detailed plans for the Japanese invasion of Northern Australia. The plans are all encoded, of course, and the only man who can break the code lives across the world, in London. Farnh ...more
Feb 17, 2013 Quoopisk rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because a MacLean fan of my acquaintance insisted that the literary hell I was put through by "Where Eagles Dare" was a fluke, and that his other books were better. Big mistake. This one is worse.

MacLean has an infuriating habit of writing military commanders who perpetually endanger their soldiers, their missions, and other innocents through an inexplicable refusal to kill enemy combatants. In "Where Eagles Dare," the supposedly heroic mission leader makes a ridiculous and irr
This story of action, suspense and survival by the master of the genre didn't disappoint me, for most part, incomprehensible nautical terms and a seemingly hurried ending apart...
Lexi Dew
Dec 05, 2016 Lexi Dew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
so much fun and can't recommend a book more action packed...perfect balance of hope and despair to keep you on the edge of your seat. and yet there is always humour to be found no matter the scene...something to take away for real life!
Alistair is a storyteller no doubt....and I have already started another of his works!
Anirudh Parthasarathy
I’ve a liking for history and I possess a particular interest in gathering information about the two world wars. When I wanted to read works of fiction on the world wars, I was immediately redirected to Alistair MacLean. I picked South by Java Head since my knowledge on the Pacific War isn't all that high (The edition I purchased was also rather inexpensive).

Coming to the plot, retired Brigadier Foster Farnholme is at Singapore and he is desperate to leave. The reason being, he has the complete
Thomas Ray
Nov 04, 2011 Thomas Ray rated it really liked it
[SPOILER ALERT] I judge a book largely by the ending; this one ends badly--so it's not among my favorite MacLean stories. But it has one quote I quite like:

"Foster always said that education was very important, but that it didn't really matter, because intelligence was more important than that, and that even intelligence didn't count for so much, that wisdom was far more important still. He said he had no idea in the world whether you had education or intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn't
I looked forward to reading my first Alister MacLean novel and early in the book was not disappointed. The book was cleverly set up and introduced. It is a World War II novel that begins with an escape from a ravaged and burning Singapore by boat with an agent and an unusual cast of characters that are carrying the plans for Japan's invasion of Australia. It goes downhill from there. Surving hurricanes, bombings, being picked up by an oil tanker, then attacked by a submarine, then a fake U.S. PT ...more
Stephen King
Jan 24, 2010 Stephen King rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Well, it was a very good read in many ways. Parts were a bit too one sided, but historically it was very interesting. One, the attitudes about the Japanese were so hard and hateful at that time. Two, the typical old female roles were stronger than now. And, three, the nautical terms were very interesting and new to me. Terms like Baft, or into the bows of the boat, and many more. I meant to look them up even though I knew the jist of them, mostly. Oh, and as so many other authors do, the hero is ...more
Oct 01, 2010 Jonah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good MacLean adventure story like the others I've read, but I knocked it down from four stars to three mainly due to the last quarter or so of the story. The Japanese and German officers were burdened with awful, schmaltzy dialogue and the need to tell the hero the entirety of their past and future, like the villains in a bad cartoon. That made it seem like an old Hollywood b-movie, but otherwise I thought it was a good yarn.
Thomas Strömquist
The third MacLean was, as far as I can remember, not so memorable. The boat setting from his first, the secret missions and pesky traitors from the second and the WWII setting from them both. A lot of (more or less unbelievable) plot twists and turns and close calls, but characterization is not alive enough to really care what happens. Would recommend to skip this one.
Jun 28, 2015 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book. The premise is that a British operative has mysteriously got his hands on encoded Japanese plans for an invasion of Australia in WWII. The operative is trying to get the plans out of hostile territory and into the hands of the allies, where they can be of use. Highly episodic in nature with several good plot twists, but the ending felt quite abrupt.
Fernando Delfim
Dec 24, 2013 Fernando Delfim rated it did not like it
"os japoneses, quando entravam num país, nunca mais de lá saíam. Pediam aquilo a que se chamavam cooperação [...] e já iam mostrando que se não a obtivessem voluntariamente a obteriam de outra maneira - com a baioneta e a metralhadora."

Achei o livro chato e repetitivo. Melhora um pouco para o final, mas não deixa de ser medíocre. Embora não seja mau, leva a nota 1, pois não gostei.
Winter Snowfall
Jan 13, 2016 Winter Snowfall rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not as much of a "cloak & dagger" novel, as you would typically expect from Alistair MacLean, as it focuses more on the up-front action and less on tying up the loose ends of the story-line. Still, it will not disappoint you unless you were hoping for something in the likes of "Where Eagles Dare".
Jul 29, 2015 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun one, lots of suspense and WWII knavery by the Japanese. I also liked the love story that evolved at the end.
It's a story of a group of refugees trying to escape from a Southeast Asian island in WWII. They end up trying to sneak their small boat around Java Head...thus the title.
Fredrick Danysh
Jun 30, 2011 Fredrick Danysh rated it really liked it
As the Japanese army is about to enter Singapore, refuges escape the city on a ship. Running a gauntlet of Japaneses air and naval forces, the ship enters into a desperate bid to reach safety by sailing south of Java Head.
Morgan McGuire
I couldn't tell what was going on in some of the scenes because there are a lot of similar (and similarly named) characters, some of which would seem to be forgotten by the author at various points...but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless! Exactly what I go to MacLean for.
Dec 05, 2011 Tell-k rated it liked it
John Williams
Jan 11, 2014 John Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alistair-maclean
One of his earliest and best book. A gripping war story. My main complaint is that it totally demonizes the Japanese enemy. He doesn't do this to the Germans in the same way in his other WW2 stories.
Jan 04, 2008 Peter rated it really liked it
Recommended to Peter by: Pirated HC-Taiwan
Shelves: alistair-maclean
I simply love it so much. This is the 3rd time I am reading it, don't ask me why. The war is so - real - frighting yet these brave men on board the Kerry Dance and then on Viroma shows the never give up attitude.
Jan 26, 2017 Russell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel, written very early in Alistair MacLean's career, has all the hallmarks of the best of his later works: a clear-headed hero who struggles against ever-increasing troubles, unexpected plot twists, and a rapid pace that keeps you interested to the end.
Katherine Thomas
Feb 18, 2015 Katherine Thomas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite thrillers, over 50 years old but a fun read.
Sep 11, 2013 PWRL marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-new
Apr 11, 2011 Anandh added it
JAVA Best Practise guide
Jul 27, 2013 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
South by Java Head is a thrilling adventure, with elements of suspense, traitors and double-agents.
Mar 09, 2010 Hazel rated it really liked it
My favourite MacLean. I think I read this several times.
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Alistair Stuart MacLean (Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacGill-Eain), the son of a Scots Minister, was brought up in the Scottish Highlands. In 1941, at the age of eighteen, he joined the Royal Navy; two and a half years spent aboard a cruiser were to give him the background for HMS Ulysses, his first novel, the outstanding documentary novel on the war at sea. After the war he gained an English Honour ...more
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“Foster always said that education was very important, but that it didn't really matter, because intelligence was more important than that, and that even intelligence didn't count for so much, that wisdom was far more important still. He said he had no idea in the world whether you had education or intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn't matter less, a blind man could see that you had a good heart, and the good heart was all that mattered in this world.” 4 likes
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