It is a bit depressing to read the novels of Alistair MacLean written after 1971, especially for someone like me who got so much pleasure from so many of the stories he wrote before that year. After "Bear Island" (1971) each of his books becomes more turgid and perfunctory than the previous. It is not much fun to follow a great adventure story writer's decline into near self-caricature, and reading "Goodbye, California" (1978) is certainly not fun.
In his early books MacLean heightens the excitement by making the reader care about the fate of the characters. In his best books, he puts us inside the head of the protagonist (most successfully when the protagonist is the narrator), and we experience the roller-coaster ups and downs of emotion, frustration, and physical exhaustion as our hero engages in a battle of wits and endurance against a deadly enemy.
In the post-1971 books, MacLean increasingly leans on a different device to try to heighten our excitement and involvement in the story. He escalates the threat, presumably with the idea that the sheer immensity of the danger will increase our involvement in the fate of the characters. This simply doesn't work. Threat is only really meaningful if directed at specific characters we care about; increasing the destruction and number of potential victims is too impersonal - too academic, in a sense - to get us involved.
In "Goodbye California" the threat is the placement of nuclear devices on the San Andreas Fault in such a way that their detonation will cause an earthquake that will send major portions of the state into the Pacific Ocean. The narrative suffers from most of the faults of MacLean's latter novels - the story is mostly talk, very little action, with key events taking place "off camera" and later reported to our ostensible heroes. The few scenes where the protagonists actually take action - instead of jawing away in boring elaborations of how deadly the threat is - are handled in a perfunctory way, and we never have the feeling that the heroes are not in complete command of the situation. We never experience the excitement of a threat to any of them - we simply read with a lack of interest as they overcome the easily outwitted villains.
As boring as this books is, however, the worst aspect of it is the occasional borderline-fascist sentiment expressed by the author when the protagonist laments such aspects of democratic society as free speech and freedom of information because they can lead to crises like the fictional one at hand. Truly distasteful.
"Goodbye, California" ranks as one of the absolute low points in the career of a great adventure storywriter.