Monday, August 28, 2023

Paul Chavasse #02 - The Year of the Tiger

Using the name Martin Fallon, Jack Higgins (real name Henry Patterson), authored a six-book series of espionage novels starring British spy Paul Chavasse. I've read and enjoyed the first, third, and fourth installments of the series – The Testament of Caspar Schultz (1962), The Keys of Hell (1965), and Midnight Never Comes (1966). The backstory on the second series novel is interesting.

Year of the Tiger was originally published in 1963 by Abeland Shulman as a hardcover in the U.K using the Martin Fallon pseudonym. Soon after publication, the book simply left the market and was never reprinted as a paperback like the other series installments (which all capitalized on Higgins' enormous household popularity). Like his other novels, Higgins and his agent decided these early books needed a freshening up. Higgins added additional details to Year of the Tiger (see below) and the book was published in paperback by Berkley in 1996 using the same title and the Higgins name. Simultaneously, it was also published in hardcover by Michael Joseph in the U.K.

What's really cool about Year of the Tiger's re-imagining is that Paul Chavasse is presented in the modern day. The book opens in London in 1995 and has Chavasse experiencing a nightmare from a previous adventure. When he awakens, readers are brought up to speed on Chavasse's life and career since 1969's A Fine Night for Dying, the series last installment. Readers learn that Chavasse has spent forty years in the British Secret Intelligence, twenty as a field operative, another twenty as Bureau Chief. Now, Chavasse is on the cusp of becoming the Prime Minister.

In a surprise meeting, Chavasse is approached by a Tibetan man who is inquiring about one of Chavasse's prior assignments – assistance to the CIA of getting the Dali Lama into India in 1959. This mini-adventure is presented as a flashback section condensed to about 17 pages. My assumption is that Higgins' original novel began here, void of the entire 1995 events. There's a brief present day London thing, and then the book takes readers to the bulk of the narrative, featuring Chavasse on a 1962 mission into Chinese-controlled Tibet to free a scientist. These Cold War thrillers from the likes of Higgins and his contemporaries seemed to consistently feature missions to free or kill scientists. As I alluded to earlier, the whole 1962 adventure, prefaced by the short 1959 stint, was probably the bulk of the 1963 hardcover. 

While Chavasse doesn't have the passion or flair of James Bond, or the clever satire of Matt Helm, I still really enjoy the character's down-to-business approach. Some readers of the series complain that Chavasse never completes the assignment efficiently. I'd like to think we are just reading about the assignments that didn't work out so well. The other 200+ adventures were probably tedious and dull. 

In this novel, Chavasse is captured, brutally tortured, and placed before a firing squad. In the middle, he makes a romantic connection, weeds out the traitor, contends with a brilliant villain, and befriends the scientist he's sworn to retrieve. The book's closing section wraps up the story quite nicely with a far-reaching present-day side-story that blends all of the narrative's pieces together. The end result makes this my favorite Chavasse novel to date and an easy re-read. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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