Henry Patterson, better known as best selling author Jack Higgins, achieved fame and fortune with his massive hit “The Eagle Has Landed” (1975). The book sold over 50 million copies and was adapted for film in 1976. However, men's action adventure enthusiasts are aware that Patterson was writing novels under pseudonyms like Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe and James Graham long before his commercial success – 34 of them in fact. As Fallon, Patterson penned a seven-book series starring British spy Paul Chavasse. By 1978, Fawcett Gold Medal had acquired the publishing rights to the series and reprinted them with new covers featuring the lucrative household name of Jack Higgins. My first experience with the series is “The Testament of Caspar Schultz,” the 1962 debut that was revised and re-released in 2006 as “The Bormann Testament.” My reading copy is the original.
The book introduces us to British secret agent Paul Chavasse during his fifth year of service to The Bureau. Paul's employer is a special organization formed to handle the dirtier, more complicated jobs that MI-5 or Secret Service won't touch. The character's history is told through flashbacks that are typically presented at various lengths in each series installment.
Paul's father was French and died fighting in WW2, and his English mother is retired on Alderney Island. Paul, an academic, gained a Ph.D in modern languages and became a university lecturer. In 1955, a friend of his had a sister who had married a Czech. After the war her husband died and she wanted to return to England. The communists wouldn't release her so Paul made the trip and freed her...somehow. Injured in a Vienna hospital, Bureau Chief Mallory discovered Paul and eventually offered him employment as an operative, a role that Paul excelled at.
“The Testament of Caspar Schultz” is a personal memoir written by Schultz recounting his experiences in WW2 as a German SS officer. Escaping authorities and war crime trials, Schultz lives out his dying days penning a detailed manuscript that uncovers key figures in Germany's political scene and their roles as Nazis during the war. Obviously, Israeli intelligence wants the manuscript, but Schultz was content with keeping it until his death. His valet, a man called Hans Muller, attempts to cash in by offering the manuscript, unbeknownst to Schultz, to a German publishing house. That stirs the Nazi underground, forcing Muller to try an English publisher. An operative posing as a London publisher learns of the manuscript and offers the details to The Bureau.
Chavasse's assignment is to locate Muller and retrieve the manuscript. Higgins' narrative is an explosive one, forcing Chavasse to fend off Nazi sympathizers who are also chasing the documents. Pairing with Israeli Intelligence and a beauty named Anna, Chavasse's work takes him throughout Germany and France following clues and dodging bullets.
Higgins is a marvelous storyteller and this hero's quest isn't just a run-of-the-mill series of chases. Known for his vulnerable heroes, Chavasse is a caring, sympathetic character who proves he's not immortal. Often, Chavasse relies on allies or sheer luck to solve immediate problems. Chavasse is written in a way that displays some weaknesses while not diminishing the validity and strength of the character. I think that ability to deliver such nuance is a testimony to the author's talent.
This novel and series aren't overly complicated or contrived. This is the spy and espionage series you are looking for that doesn't require a lot of analysis or notes. It's wildly entertaining and highly recommended.
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