The Wild Geese: Book and Movie Review
The Wild Geese was written by Daniel Carney and published in 1978, just before the release of the movie of the same name. Curiously, although the book is not a novelisation of the movie, it was unpublished at the time the movie was made. The Wild Geese movie starred Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger.
The Wild Geese: Logline
An aging mercenary is hired to rescue an African politician from execution. When the operation goes wrong, his commando group has to fight its way to the border in order to escape.
The Wild Geese: Plot Summary
Warning: My plot summaries contain spoilers The major spoilers are blacked out like this secret . To view them, just select/highlight them.
It’s 1968, an aircraft carrying Julius Limbani a Congolese politician back to his country to start a revolution, is hijacked by the CIA and the politician flown to Algeria to be held under arrest.
Now it’s 1970. A washed-up mercenary named Faulkner arrives in London to meet with the head of a merchant bank. The banker tells Faulkner that Limbani, who is thought dead, is in fact alive and is being returned to the Congo by the Algerians to be executed. The banker is losing a lot of money due to Congo’s dictator nationalising some of the bank’s operations. The banker offers Faulkner a contract to rescue Limbani, who will then be used to pressure Congo’s dictator into concessions. Faulkner accepts.
Faulkner gets a commando group together, and comes up with a plan: parachute into Congo, eliminate the guards, snatch Limbani and fly out again. He meets with an arms dealer, who agrees to supply all the necessary military equipment, and MI6, who are not opposed to the mercenaries freeing Limbani and supply some information on his whereabouts.
Faulkner’s commandos train in Mozambique until they get the word that Limbani is arriving in Congo. They set off for the Congo and parachute in. One group head to the military base where Limbani is being held and the other to the airstrip.
The group planning to rescue Limbani reach the base where he is being held. One of the mercenaries uses a crossbow to silently eliminate the guards and the commandos cross the killing ground around the base. They then use cyanide gas to kill everyone in the barracks while they sleep. Limbani is held in the guard-room and there is a brief firefight with the guards, which the mercenaries win. They grab Limbani, leave explosives to destroy what is left of the base, steal some trucks and head for the airport.
At the airport, the other group of mercenaries get the word that Limbani has been rescued and secure the control tower. The aircraft that is to fly them out again approaches but has trouble finding the airport due to low cloud.
Congolese troops arrive and attack the airport. The aircraft lands, but the Congolese troops shoot at it and it takes off again to avoid their fire, leaving the mercenaries stranded. Faulkner’s convoy of trucks arrives at the airstrip just as the aircraft disappears.
With no aircraft, Faulkner decides to drive to Limbani’s tribe’s territory where they will be safe from the Congolese army. They head north in the trucks while a rearguard ambushes the Congolese to slow them down. Faulkner’s men reach a rickety bridge and attempt to cross it. Most of the trucks get across but eventually the bridge collapses, leaving Limbani and a few of the commandos trapped on the wrong side of the river…
The smaller group including Limbani manage to steal boats and cross the river. All but Limbani himself are killed fighting their way back to the main group.
Faulkner meets an old Irish priest, who tells him there is a small airstrip at a mine in the hills and it has an aircraft. Faulkner speaks to the Congolese president and offers him Limbani for a million dollars and a guarantee of safe passage out of the country. The president accepts, but the other mercenaries refuse to go through with the deal and insist that they try to escape using the aircraft at the mine. The mercenaries head for the airstrip fighting a running rearguard action all the way.
Faulkner himself is killed just before arriving at the airstrip. The few remaining mercenaries board the plane, but the pilot is badly wounded taxiing the aircraft. He manages to talk one of the others through the procedure for taking off, and they set course for Rhodesia. The Rhodesians refuse the aircraft permission to enter their airspace and threaten to shoot it down, until Limbani convinces them he is onboard.
With the fuel gone and the pilot only semi-conscious, the aircraft crash-lands at an airstrip just over the Rhodesian border – Limbani is rescued, though at high cost.
The Wild Geese: Analysis
The Wild Geese has a classic Mission plot (see Spy Novel Plots). The first half of the novel shows preparations for the mission, the second half its execution and the mercenaries attempting to escape.
The ‘Mission’ Plot
- Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
- Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
- Makes a plan to complete the Mission.
- Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
- Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
- Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
- Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
- Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist (or is captured and escapes).
- Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes (or fails to complete) the Mission.
Daniel Carney sets up an ensemble cast of mercenaries, mostly hard-bitten. Much is made of the camaraderie and toughness of the characters, and the character motives are simple but effective, with one mercenary fighting for his son, others disappointed in love, needing the money, or just wanting to prove themselves one last time. Carney is not afraid to kill his characters off, which makes the actions scenes feel more visceral and exciting.
Carney had lived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and served in its paramilitary police force. Several of the characters in The Wild Geese have the racist attitudes that were common amongst white South African and Rhodesians at the time, though the British characters tend to disagree with them. However, in one extended sequence Limbani puts his point of view eloquently enough to convince one of the Rhodesian characters that he is wrong and that reconciliation between white and black Africans is the only hope.
The prose of The Wild Geese is straightforward, with an omniscient narrator and a lot of bald exposition – it’s not a book to read for the beauty of its language. At times the dialogue is clunky and events become confusing due to a lack of scene breaks.
It’s usual to leave a blank line or a marker (called a ‘fleuron’) when there is a time break in the narrative, or the point of view shifts to a different character. This is to help the reader realise the jump and avoid confusion.
Some of the middle section sags a little as one of the mercenaries has a romantic interlude that, although somewhat humanising, feels more like padding than part of the story.
Having said that, much of the story does feel ‘real’, with Carney inserting details and incidents that feel only lightly fictionalised, and the pace really picks up in the final third of the novel as the mercenaries attempt to carry out their mission, the final battles and the desperate flight is a nail-biter.
Reality: Moise Tshombe
The opening scene of the novel is based on a real incident in 1967, when the French secret service hijacked a plane carrying Moise Tshombe, a Congolese politician, and flew him to Algeria. In reality, Tshombe died in custody.
The Wild Geese: My Verdict
A great war thriller and a real page turner once the mission gets under way.
The Wild Geese: The Movie
The Wild Geese was filmed in 1978 starring Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger.
The movie of The Wild Geese looks a bit dated in places, filming of military action has moved on quite a bit since it was filmed and there’s a bit too much fake blood and people throwing themselves around pretending to have been shot. The parachute jump is very well done though.
The movie is very similar to the novel, particularly the first half. The main change is that the aircraft doesn’t pick the mercenaries up because the banker, who has come to a deal with Congo’s dictator, orders it off. Faulkner doesn’t try to sell Limbani out either, but Limbani dies in the plane on the way out, and the movie ends with Faulkner killing the banker for betraying him.
The ensemble cast does a reasonable job, with Richard Burton and Richard Harris growling away. Roger Moore smirks and quips a bit too much for me though and Hardy Kruger is not exactly the giant he is described as in the novel.
Want to Read or Watch It?
Here’s the trailer for The Wild Geese movie:
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