Monday, December 4, 2023

Martin Fallon #01 - Cry of the Hunter

In 1959, while teaching at James Graham College, thirty-year old British military veteran Harry Patterson (aka Jack Higgins) began writing action-adventure novels. I've read a great deal of them, but wanted to experience the author's early efforts at mastering his future bestselling craft. I decided to read Cry of the Hunter. It was published in 1960 by John Long as a hardcover and is now available everywhere in multiple formats. 

Martin Fallon served the Irish Republican Army for years. Simply referred to as “The Organization”, Fallon fought valiantly for the cause. As a schoolboy, he idolized the I.R.A., and later joined their crusade at the age of 17. At 22, he became a leader of the Organization in Ulster. He was eventually arrested and served nine long years in prison (even escaping once) Now, at age 40, Fallon lives a complacent life in the countryside writing books (under two pseudonyms) and sipping whiskey. But, the past always has a way of rearing its ugly head.

One night, Fallon receives some unexpected visitors. It's his former I.R.A. colleague O'Hara with a young trainee and an old blind woman. What are the three up to? They advise Fallon that the old woman's son, a guy named Rogan, is a hair-brained lunatic that leads “The Organization” now. But, the police finally caught up to him and are holding the gunman in custody. Rogan shot a police officer, crippled another, and the legal system will plan for a much-publicized hanging. O'Hara wants Rogan out, and knows that Fallon is just the right man to spring him. He also senses that Fallon isn't content with the dull lifestyle he's created for himself. After hearing from Rogan's son, Fallon agrees to the prison break.

Higgins' novel uses a flexible recycled plot. The concept of the prior criminal coming to the aid of another has been used in westerns as the retired, rehabilitated outlaw recommits to criminality to save a former partner or relationship. Or, it can be used as a crucial plot point for crime-fiction, typically as a former criminal-turned-cop is forced into the underworld to save a badguy from his past. The only hindrance to Higgins' use of the plot is there is no prior relationship between Fallon and Rogan. Fallon just sees himself in the new leader and possibly wants to change Rogan's path of failure.

Cry of the Hunter is an unusual Higgins novel due to the confined setting. The book isn't a globe-trotting affair through desert, sea, and high mountain peaks. In fact, the entire book mostly takes place in just a few blocks of a suburban sprawl. Fallon's time with the readers is spent moving from house to house to avoid the police while also attempting to reconvene with former I.R.A. colleagues for safe harbor. Ultimately, the author introduces a young boy to help Fallon, creating a heartfelt bond between the two that forces the protagonist to see the sins of his past by idolizing the I.R.A. when he was the boy's age. Overall, the novel fits snugly into what I would consider a crime-noir genre more than any Jack Higgins staple of high-octane, high-adventure. This is a very different novel written by an inexperienced, yet entertaining, Harry Patterson.

Higgins himself grew up in Belfast and was exposed to political and religious violence in Northern Ireland at an early age. His novels often feature Irish Republican Army elements. Interesting enough, the character of Martin Fallon would reemerge years later as the star of 1973's A Prayer for the Dying, in which a mob boss makes a pitch to Fallon to assassinate a rival. I enjoyed Cry of the Hunter enough to warrant reading that novel as well. Additionally, the author's most admired hero is that of Sean Dillon, a recurring character that appeared in 22 novels as a former IRA assassin.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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