“East of Desolation” was Jack Higgins' (real name: Henry Patterson) 22nd novel, published in 1968 by Berkley and then reprinted dozens of times using different cover art. The book arrived seven years prior to Higgins becoming a mega-bestseller and household name with his 1975 novel “The Eagle Has Landed”. While booming sales never supported the material, the 1960s produced some of Higgins' finest literary work, evident with this ice-capped adventure starring brush pilot Joe Martin.
Martin is a Korean War veteran living on the coast of Godthaab, Greenland, a mere 200 hundred miles below the frigid Arctic Circle. Martin works as an independent pilot, flying supplies and passengers to various ships, hunting parties and whaling factories. It's a quiet life that allows Martin enough income to slowly pay off his aircraft. One of Martin's best clients is Jack Desforge, a Hollywood movie director that spends long holidays hunting polar bear. When we are first introduced to Martin, it is on a flight to Jack's boat to deliver a veteran movie actress to the director. There are some early sparks between Martin and the beautiful actress, a chemistry that Higgins utilizes throughout the narrative.
After returning back home, Martin is solicited by a group of people led by a woman named Sarah Kelso. Her husband's plane went missing a year ago near the polar ice-caps. On a recent university expedition, the wreckage was located and two men were found dead inside the cabin. Due to the horrific weather, the site was left untouched, and Sarah was notified. Now, Sarah has a number of reasons to find the wreckage and wants Martin's help.
The plane wreckage revealed an ID for a passenger named Martin Gaunt. Who is he? Second, her husband's body wasn't found in the plane, instead the pilot's seat was occupied by a man identified as Harrison. Again, who is he? Sarah's insurance reps, who accompanied Sarah to Greenland, want answers. They paid out a sizable amount for the death of Sarah's husband, who may or may not have died in the crash. With Martin's experience as a pilot in harsh conditions, the group want to examine the crash site and find answers.
Higgins builds a gripping, intense narrative ripe with adventure and intrigue. Like other high-adventure novels, the remote location is like a character itself, slowly imposing its will on the story. But, the narrative has a multitude of mysteries, each evolving as readers learn more about the characters and their history. Just when I thought I had the place mats aligned...the author resets the table. Needless to say, there's a lot of moving pieces...and targets.
“East of Desolation” is another exceptional novel from an author that seemingly can do no wrong. While this one avoids the author's stereotypical World War 2 connection, it still maintains a “battle” prose between warring factions. It's fun, clever and altogether a terrific read that delivers a satisfying payout. This one is recommended.
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