Fear Is the Key

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Fear Is the Key
Alistair Maclean – Fear is the Key.jpg
First edition cover (UK)
Author Alistair MacLean
Cover artist John Keay[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Thriller novel
Publisher Collins (UK)
Fawcett (US)
Publication date
Pages 234 pp.
Preceded by The Last Frontier
Followed by The Dark Crusader

Fear Is the Key is a 1961 first-person narrative thriller novel by Scottish author Alistair MacLean, and a 1972 British film based upon it.

Plot introduction[edit]

In the prologue, set in May 1958, Talbot, owner of Trans Carib Air Charter Co was in British Honduras, maintains radio contact with one of his planes en route to Tampa, Florida, as it is being shot down by the United States Air Force. This resulted in the death of Talbot's family.

Two years later, Talbot has apparently turned to a life of crime, for which he is now facing sentencing in a courtroom, partly due to evidence from INTERPOL. He escapes by taking a young woman hostage, the daughter of multimillionaire General Ruthven. A reward is put out on his head, and he is captured by a thug who turns him in to the hostage's father. Instead of turning him over to the police, however, Ruthven hires him for some not-entirely legitimate tasks. Talbot is taken to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, from which Ruthven and his shady cronies are attempting to salvage a sunken DC-3 which has a secret treasure of gold, emeralds and uncut diamonds worth more than ten million dollars. In typically MacLean style, the reader comes to find that nothing in this complicated plot is quite as it seems.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

Fear Is the Key appeared in film in a 1973 release directed by Michael Tuchner. The protagonist, Talbot, was played by Barry Newman, and the millionaire's daughter Sarah Ruthven by Suzy Kendall. The movie features a soundtrack by Roy Budd.

References in other media[edit]

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, by Crosby, Stills and Nash, contains the lyric "Fear is the lock, and laughter the key to your heart."[2]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Alistair MacLean, Fear Is the Key London: Collins, 1961.
  2. ^ Barry Alan Farber, Rock 'n' Roll Wisdom: What Psychologically Astute Lyrics Teach about Life and Love, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, ISBN 0275991644, p. 140