Using the names Jack Higgins, Martin Fallon, and Hugh Marlowe, Henry Patterson had a successful, early literary career throughout the 1960s and early 1970s with a high-adventure template utilized by Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Hammond Innes. Five-years prior to Patterson becoming a household name with The Eagle Has Landed (as Jack Higgins, 1975), he used the name James Graham to write a traditional WW2 adventure novel called A Game for Heroes (1970). It was published as a hardcover in 1970 by Macmillan and reprinted countless times over by the likes of Dell, Harper Collins and Penguin. It remains in print today in both physical and digital versions.
The novel stars Owen Morgan, a British special forces expert who served valiantly in the heart of WWII. After losing an eye, Morgan was shipped back home at the tail end of the war. After finding love and harmony, Morgan is asked to rejoin British forces for a daring mission on St. Pierre, a fictional island in the German-occupied British Channel. After fighting as a spy in harrowing, bloody campaigns, Morgan is skeptical of leading a mission that takes him back into battle. First, it's 1945 and the Russians are knocking on Hitler's door in Berlin signaling that the war is nearly over. Second, Morgan feels as if his reflexes and physical limitations will impact his success. However, the wild card is a former lover named Simone.
Morgan grew up on St. Pierre and his father was an excellent sailor who died attempting to rescue boaters during a stormy, high-seas operation. His love was Simone, daughter of the island's leader. After learning that Simone is one of 60 islanders remaining, Morgan hopes to visit Simone one final time. If successful, this military operation will allow Morgan to penetrate the island's fortifications and learn more about the Germans' underwater positioning and a unique project called “Operation Nigger” (specifically named after the British black labrador). While Morgan will face the opposition alone, he will work with a specialized international team of demolition experts to create diversions by blowing up smaller sea-craft.
Like a lot of Higgins novels, the opening chapter is the middle of the story. In it, we learn that Morgan has been captured by the Germans and is awaiting execution along with a portion of the demolition squad. As Morgan contemplates his future, he tells the story of how he came into the operation and the events that eventually led to his capture. While this is traditional Higgins' storytelling (in first person perspective), the story condenses into a rather surprising narrative. Despite the book's cover, A Game for Heroes is more of a nautical tale that has Morgan reflecting on his father's naval exploits as well as his own. There's a savage, climactic sea rescue but I would be a fool to spoil it for you here. The book's narrative ultimately leads to a wind-swept, stormy finale, but the lead-up is worth the wait.
A Game for Heroes is set in an interesting era of World War II history. It's the end, the final theater, the 1945 closing of one of Earth's most important events. Higgins presents readers with a really interesting scenario – what happens to old soldiers at the end of the journey? With guns pointing at each other, what does the end look like for combatants? There's an amazing scene where the BBC radio announces Hitler has been killed to dozens of German soldiers and their British prisoners. But without any real guidance, how do the two warring factions interact? This is Higgins masterful prose, a reading experience that delivers adventure, calculated risk and lost love but isn't afraid to ask some important questions. For this reason alone, A Game for Heroes is a game worth playing. Under any name, Higgins is extraordinary.
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