The Dark Crusader
First edition cover (UK)
|Genre||Thriller Spy novel Novel|
|Preceded by||Fear Is the Key|
|Followed by||The Golden Rendezvous|
The Dark Crusader is a 1961 thriller novel by Scottish author Alistair MacLean. The book was initially written under the pseudonym Ian Stuart and later under his true name. It was released in the United States under the title: The Black Shrike.
Eight top-level scientists and their wives disappear after responding to newspaper advertisements for specialists in different areas of modern technology, so when a ninth advertisement appears, Agent John Bentall is recalled to London from a mission in Turkey. The advertisements offered high rates of pay to applicants who were married, had no children and were prepared for immediate travel. Bentall, a physicist specializing in rocket fuels and working for the British government on counter espionage, is paired with Marie Hopeman, an inexperienced agent, assigned to pose as his wife. All eight scientists had disappeared in Australia or en route there, and Bentall and Hopeman find themselves kidnapped at a bus stop in Fiji. They escape to the island of Vardu, a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which is currently home to Professor Witherspoon, a noted archaeologist. The island has no radio transmitter and the next boat is scheduled to arrive in three weeks. Bentall finds Dr. Witherspoon somewhat sketchy. Later, Bentall discovers Witherspoon is actually LeClerc, the mastermind behind a plot to steal a British missile, the Dark Crusader, for an unnamed foreign power.
Bentall's character displays a stumbling, self-deprecating demeanour and makes mistakes that lead to the pair falling into the trap set by the villains. The story becomes more complicated when Bentall and Hopeman find themselves falling in love as they try to defeat the plot. Neither the female agent nor the situation are quite as they seem. The novel offers has two endings, one in which Bentall must choose between saving Hopeman and preventing the theft of the missile, and the other in which he finally unravels the last details of the plot with his boss.
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