Showing posts with label Jack Higgins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jack Higgins. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Eagle Has Landed

Henry “Harry” Patterson (1929-2022) became a household name using the pseudonym of Jack Higgins. The British author was prolific from 1959 through 1974, producing 34 novels including a six-book series of spy-fiction starring secret agent Paul Chavasse. Patterson used pseudonyms like Jack Higgins, Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe, James Graham as well as variations of his own name. But, the author didn't achieve global success until 1975 when he produced the WW2 thriller The Eagle Has Landed, written under the Jack Higgins name. The book has sold over 50 million copies and was made into a film of the same name in 1976.

Surprisingly, the novel begins in the present day with Jack Higgins himself discovering a hidden grave inside a British cemetery. This concealed grave states that Lieutenant-Colonel Kurt Steiner and 13 German paratroopers were killed in action on November 13, 1943. How these Germans were killed in England is the bulk of the novel's narrative. The author takes the reader back in time to relive the events that led up to the concealment of this mysterious grave. 

Without digging too far into the details, the book is about a secret German mission to capture, or kill, English Prime-Minister Winston Churchhill. The concept begins with a sort of lackadaisical whim pitched by Adolph Hitler. But, Obertst Radl (translation is basically Colonel Radl) begins to experiment with the idea, eventually bringing the whole plan to fruition. To accomplish the feat, the Germans rely on a disgraced Colonel named Kurt Steiner (a real badass!) and a captured IRA terrorist named Liam Devlin (an even badder badass!). 

Higgins takes some time to flesh out the backstories of both Steiner and Devlin, both of which will appear in more Higgins novels in the future. In fact, Liam Devlin is probably the high-water mark for Higgins repeat characters, appearing in this book, it's sequel The Eagle Has Flown, two other novels and cameos in the Sean Dillon series. The backstories are developed well and place most of the book's action on the shoulders of these two characters. But, it isn't fair to really say anyone is a main character considering the story is so crowded with emphasized personnel.  

At 390 paperback pages, The Eagle Has Landed is one of Higgins' most ambitious novels. It's quite complex in the structure of the mission and all of the moving parts in Germany and England. With 12 characters, the narrative consistently changes location and scenery as the reader is thrust into high-level military strategy and politics within this robust cast of characters. If you want just straight-up action, I'd stick with Higgins' prior 34 novels. This book is a real beast.

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

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.

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.

Friday, June 9, 2023


Jack Higgins (real name Harry Patterson, 1929-2022) was just getting his feet wet as an author when Seven Pillars to Hell was published. It was printed in 1963 by Abelard-Schuman under Patterson's pseudonym Hugh Marlowe. Mostly, the book went unnoticed and remained out of print for decades. Long after Jack Higgins became a household name, the author made revisions to his earlier works and saw them reprinted. Such is the case with Seven Pillars to Hell, which was revised into the 1995 novel Sheba, published by Berkley. I chose to read and review this version.

The book begins in Germany in 1939 with a select group of advisers meeting with Hitler on his plans to invade Poland. To avoid British interference, the men devise a method to blow up the Suez Canal. But, the problem arises with the immense distances required to fuel and attack the strategic location. When a colleague proposes that he has discovered the location of the legendary Temple of Sheba, buried in the ruthless Empty Quarter desert, the Germans create Operation Sheba to utilize this lost ancient structure as a supply depot for aircraft. 

A few months later, Higgins introduces Sheba's star hero, Gavin Kane, an Indiana Jones type of adventurer that is an archaeologist and nautical smuggler. After one of his illegal sea-run trades, Kane meets a woman who offers to pay him to locate her husband. Coincidentally, her husband is the professor that originally discovered the Temple of Sheba. Chances are that the man was killed, but Kane is a businessman and accepts the job. 

Sheba is saturated with fast-paced action sequences, most of which culminate in the hot desert sands as Kane, his associates, and his employer are on the run from Nazis. Like King Solomon's Mines, for example, the book's second half is mostly presented as a treasure hunt in the temple's underground passageways and secret tunnels. But, a brutal survival element is introduced that places characters forging for freedom through the harsh elements. 

Higgins is one of the best adventure writers of all-time, so his imagination and storytelling is superb as the book kicks into the third and final act. In some ways, a lot of his novels have a similar theme with WW2 historical vines weaving in and out of iron-fisted, strong-armed heroic fantasy (swords traded for machine guns). Once again, Higgins knocked my socks off with one of the better books I've read by him. This one was really something special and I'm glad it now exists in multiple formats for lifetimes to come. Highly recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The Last Place God Made

Jack Higgins' (Harry Patterson) The Last Place God Made was originally published in 1971 as a hardcover by Collins. It was published in paperback by Fawcett Crest and remains available today in physical, digital, and audio editions. 

The opening pages introduce Neil Mallory, a young British brush pilot with exceptional skills. He's flying mail routes over and along the Negro River in Brazil. He loses power, runs low on fuel, and with the help of a veteran RAF pilot, is guided to a semi-safe landing. Mallory walks away from the wreckage and meets the guy who helped save his life, Sam Hannah. The two have some drinks together and Mallory learns that Hannah is a well-known guy in these exotic areas, a heavy boozer and women-chaser that loves a good time on someone else’s dollar.

The night before returning to the more friendly, less treacherous metropolis of London, Mallory is seduced by a woman who leads him into an alley and steals his wallet and passport. Mallory, facing unemployment and a perilous financial outlook, accepts a job with Hannah flying packages. But, is there more to this than meets the eye?

Higgins places these two characters at odds with each other while they perform a dangerous mission of assisting nuns on a missionary expedition to care for a tribe of indigenous people. A beautiful model and actress named Joanna learns that her sister, one of the nuns, has been taken captive by the Huna tribe. Joanna has a romantic involvement with both Hannah and Mallory, adding even more tension and abrasion between the pilots. They both agree to assist Joanna in locating her sister, despite the ominous threats the jungle brings. 

In some ways I felt that The Last Place God Made was reminiscent of another bush pilot Higgins novel, 1968's East of Desolation. The two books share pilots as protagonists, and both are set in exotic, “high adventure” locales. East of Desolation is more of a murder mystery while The Last Place God Made is an action-adventure novel. My mild disappointment with this book is that the first 150 pages was a slow burn explaining the region, history, and characters. The build-up of Hannah and Mallory's rivalry was enjoyable, but nothing really happens until the last 60-70 pages. The book's closing chapters is some of the best Higgins action-adventure scenes I've read. The finale places both Hannah and Mallory with heavy firepower in a crumbling old church as hundreds of spear-wielding natives attack. This was well worth the wait. 

The Last Place God Made is a calculated build-up featuring historic details of Brazil, fearless characters, gunplay, treachery, jealousy, crime-fiction, and the high-adventure genre tropes one would expect from the author. It may also be the most violent Higgins novel I've experienced in terms of savage violence and torture. This is not for the squeamish. If you can handle the blood 'n guts, this is another great Higgins offering.

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Pay the Devil

There's no doubt that Jack Higgins, real name Henry Patterson, is a household name and one of the cornerstones of the second generation of action-adventure novelists. By the mid-1970s, most of the author's literary work from the late 1950s through the 1970s was re-published as paperbacks under the name familiar name of Higgins. Patterson's 1963 hardback novel, Pay the Devil, was one of the few novels absent from the 1970s reprints. Oddly, the book wasn't released until 2000. It was revised and published as a paperback by Berkley. 

While most of the author's novels are written as modern, high-adventure novels typically placed in the same time period as their publishing date. Pay the Devil is mainly set in 1865, just one year after the American Civil-War. The hero, Irish-American Clay Fitzgerald, is introduced in the book's prologue (which I believe was written decades later as an addition to the book's reprint) as a Confederate Brigadier General. This exciting prologue has Fitzgerald and his tattered band of rebels receiving orders that General Lee is surrendering the Confederacy at Appomattox, Virginia. Knowing the war is now over, Fitzgerald and his men come to the aid of a young man who is being lynched. These early pages show readers that Fitzgerald is not only a respectable man of action, but also a trained battlefield surgeon. These elements are both important to the narrative. 

After the surrender, Fitzgerald learns that his Uncle has died in Ireland and that his inheritance is waiting. The book then resumes the action one-year later as Fitzgerald and his friend Josh arrive in the Irish town of Drumore. There they learn that Fitzgerald's inheritance is a moderate amount of money and a burned estate. After an exchange with some of the residents, Fitzgerald learns that the town is essentially being bullied by Sir George Hamilton. As a servant to the British, it's Hamilton's job to keep the Irish poor and famished. Fitzgerald, fearing the Irish will never gain independence, assumes a neutral role. But after seeing the town's exhaustive efforts to fight back, Fitzgerald dons a costume and assumes the identity of a folk hero vigilante named Captain Swing. As this masked rider, Fitzgerald fights for the people. 

This was a really different Jack Higgins novel. While not a traditional western, it's more like Higgins' version of Batman. While there's plenty of action, Fitzgerald's role as caregiver to the poor really defines the character. By day, Fitzgerald can rub shoulders with Irish and British aristocracy, but at night his surgical skills and fighting demeanor resembles a pulpy sort of hero. With a saber and Dragoon, this character represents nobility and pride, a continuation of his background in the American Civil-War – one war just exchanged for another.

As a fan of Higgins, I can't find anything not to like about Pay the Devil. I am a little puzzled on why this novel wasn't reprinted decades earlier. Perhaps the author's iconic World War II and nautical themes were so overpowering that publishers didn't wish to risk his literary dominance at that point. While it's a different time period, the author's heroes are nearly interchangeable. This book should please the author's immense fanbase, but also could serve as a pulpy alternative western for lovers of Lone Ranger, Masked Rider, and other old west adventures. 

Buy the eBook HERE.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Toll for the Brave

Before Jack Higgins (real name: Harry Patterson, born 1929) became a massive bestselling author of thick, high-adventure novels, he wrote exciting 180-page paperbacks for guys like us. Case in point: His 29th novel, Toll for the Brave (1971), which remains in print today. 

The protagonist and narrator is Ellis Jackson, a British citizen who enlists in the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper in 1966. Evidently this was a real thing - highly unusual - but it happened. Despite serving with valor, he is captured by the Viet Cong and thrown into a tortuous prisoner-of-war camp administered by the sadistic Chinese. This segment of the paperback was vivid, violent and compelling as Ellis is brought to the physical and the psychological breaking point.

Inside the camp, an African-American U.S. Army Brigadier General with a fantastic backstory named Max Sinclair is also housed as a prisoner of war. Black Max, as he was called, was a U.S. military legend who fought in World War 2, Korea, and now Vietnam where he was caught by the commies while venturing beyond the confines of his command post. Black Max teaches young Ellis how to handle the confinement and torture with a Zen equanimity that preserves Ellis’ sanity and life. Meanwhile, a sexy Chinese psychologist at the camp named Madame Ny is assigned to be Ellis’ chief interrogator while using sensuality and mental manipulation to break the young Britton down. The POW camp scenes comprising the book’s first act were among the best I’ve read this year.

Eventually, Ellis wins his freedom and begins a new life in a marshy village 50-miles outside of London called Foulness. This setting change comprises a new section of the novel, and Ellis is dealing with what appears to be severe PTSD. It’s so bad that when he goes to walk his dog, he thinks he sees Viet Cong lurking in the swamp trying to kill his pet. It’s during one of these dreamlike episodes that a suspicious murder occurs (the novel’s back-cover spoils it, but I won’t), and it’s then incumbent upon Ellis to prove his own innocence and solve the murder. The innocent man being forced to solve a murder to clear his own name has got to be the plot of darn near half the novels we review here at Paperback Warrior. To his credit, Higgins does a good job with this tired storyline, but it has nowhere near the edge-of-your-seat emotional impact of the POW camp scenes. 

There are plenty of great action sequences that will please readers - including some particularly well-crafted martial arts fights. The climactic ending has a giant twist you won’t see coming, but that comes with a cost. The “solution” to the novel’s central mystery is truly moronic and illogical. It’s safe to say that the paperback’s resolution would only please fans who have received frontal lobotomies. Can you enjoy a good book with a bad ending?  That’s the real question here. Is it the ride or the destination that matters? It’s your call. 

Buy your copy HERE

Monday, July 5, 2021

Hell Is Too Crowded

I recently read Alistair MacLean's book When Eight Bells Toll. What was interesting about that book was that MacLean structured it in a private-eye formula. It was a different but entertaining novel, although quite different from the typical high adventure tale typically associated with MacLean. This thought led me to a novel by Jack Higgins called Hell Is Too Crowded. It was written as Higgins' own name, Harry Patterson, and initially published in 1962. It was later reprinted under the Higgins pseudonym by Fawcett Gold Medal. 

Like MacLean's When Eight Bells Toll, this book is in fact a crime-noir and a different style from the typical espionage and adventure plot that Higgins normally produced. In the first chapter of the book, readers learn about the American Matthew Brady. He is a structural engineer who had worked internationally when he met a beautiful British woman. After a brief affair, Brady began sending her money in the hope that they would save for a marriage and an average suburban lifestyle. After discovering that she had left the country with the money, Brady falls into a state of intoxication and eventually collapses on a bench in London.

A pretty young woman ends up finding Brady on the bench that night and offers to take him back to her apartment. The woman is obviously a prostitute, but she appears sincere in her concerns. The two take a short stroll beside a dark cemetery and enter the second floor of a large Victorian house. As Brady enters, he notices the face of a man watching them through the bottom window. After a coffee, Brady becomes sleepy and begins to faint on the sofa. His last look before sleep is the man from downstairs looking over the woman's shoulder. 

Brady wakes up listening to the detectives talking around him. The generous woman has been horribly mutilated and Brady is the chief suspect. The police does not accept his version of the story and after several months, the narrative finds Brady in prison. Building on his experience as a structural engineer, Brady began designing an escape plan. He must find the real killer and clear his name before the hounds of justice are on his trail. 

Needless to say, the crime-noir trope of an average man waking up to a female corpse is a familiar one. The late 1940s and 1950s are ripe for stories like this. The rapid pace, mystery development and problem-solving skills of the main character reflect the likes of Day Keene. The setting, complete with graveyard and seaside house, combined with the central story also reminds me of Edward S. Aarons' early career.  

While not a Higgins adventure, Hell Is Too Crowded is still worth the effort. It was enjoyable to find the author immersed into the crime-noir genre. Further, it may have inspired Higgins to write a better, more adventuresome novel in 1971's Toll for the Brave. It has a similar storyline, but focuses more on the high adventure storytelling that he perfected. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, November 6, 2020

Passage by Night

Passage by Night began its publication history as a 1964 release by Hugh Marlowe. The real author was a Brit named Henry Patterson who eventually became famous under his more-successful pseudonym of Jack Higgins. Thereafter, Passage by Night was reprinted under the Higgins name where it remains available today.

The paperback’s hero is Harry Manning, a British charter-boat captain in the Bahamas. However, Manning is more than your typical bleach-blonde boat bum. He used to own a successful salvage business in Havana, and the business was stolen from him when Fidel Castro’s revolution brought a corrupt flavor of communism to Cuba. As a result, Manning is now relegated to taking American tourists scuba diving and spear-fishing in the Bahamas to make ends meet.

It’s somewhat important to keep in mind that when the novel takes place in 1964, the Bahamas was a British crown colony and did not gain its independence until 1973. Manning has a romantic relationship with a Cuban refugee he rescued at sea named Maria Salas, who is currently performing as a singer on the Bahamian island of Spanish Cay. One evening, Maria boards a commuter plane hopping between islands, and the tiny aircraft explodes over the water. Manning is left without a girlfriend but with a mystery to solve. Why would anyone assassinate a Cuban exile torch singer?

The journey to the truth begins as a rather standard - but very compelling - mystery with Manning visiting logical leads on Nassau to discover the identity and motive of the killer. All roads lead to the Isle of Tears, a Cuban concentration camp for political prisoners, and the paperback evolves into a balls-out action thriller right up to the twisty ending.

Passage by Night is an enjoyable, if inconsequential, Caribbean maritime adventure with lots of scuba diving scenes sprinkled through the plot. The paperback benefits from being extremely short, so there was never time for the book to become slow, muddled or confusing. I don’t expect to recall much about it in a year other than it being a perfectly fun diversion for a few hours - or in other words: an easy recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Friday, July 31, 2020

A Game for Heroes

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 13, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 52

How does the revival of an obscure western book series lead to allegations of criminality and fraud? Find out on Episode 52 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast. Also: Vintage finds in the wild! We review Dead Wrong by Lorenz Heller and Jack Higgins' A Game for Heroes! And much more! Listen to the show wherever you get your podcasts, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 52: The Morgan Kane Fiasco" on Spreaker.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Paul Chavasse #03 - The Keys of Hell

Before Jack Higgins (real name Henry Patterson) became a household name with 1975's runaway bestseller The Eagle Has Landed, the British author authored a number of action-adventure novels under pseudonyms including James Graham and Hugh Marlow. Utilizing the name Martin Fallon, Higgins wrote a six-book series of novels starring British spy Paul Chavasse. After enjoying the debut, The Testament of Caspar Schultz (1962), and the series' fourth title, Midnight Never Comes (1966), I was able to acquire the series' third book, The Keys of Hell, originally published in hardcover in 1965.

The book begins with Chavasse entering the British Embassy to request some time off. While there, he meets an attractive woman named Francesca Minetti who confesses to him that she was his radio operative on his last mission. Surprised, the two strike up a friendship and Chavasse is granted his two-week holiday...after he completes the assassination of a double-agent working in Albania.

During the opening chapters, Chavasse quickly completes his assignment but runs into Francesca in Albania. In sobbing fashion she advises Chavasse that her family has been persecuted by Albania's brutal communist regime. After the government began forcibly removing the public churches, her brother attempted to preserve a religious statue called The Black Madonna in the city of Scutari. Before communist forces could seize and destroy it, Francesca and her brother attempted to move the statue to a rural, coastal location ten miles away. During the transport, her brother was fatally shot and Francesca escaped. The beloved statue, which brought hope to thousands of persecuted villagers, sank into the deep marshes.

Like an espionage treasure hunt, Higgins' narrative is brimming with nautical chases, gunboat fights and the obligatory prison break. Chavasse and Francesca have a romantic connection, but the author ignites the spark when the heroic spy comes to the aid of a 20-year old female farmer. Once the statue was located, the narrative propelled into brisk action with a few twists and turns in Chavasse's circle of friends. Regretfully I had a sense that by skipping the series' second installment, The Year of the Tiger, I missed a key plot development in this novel. It didn't hamper my enjoyment, but perhaps the ending would have had a bigger impact.

I've never read a bad Jack Higgins novel and The Keys of Hell is no different. While the Paul Chavasse series is tragically underrated, spy and espionage readers should find plenty to like about it. Buy your copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Run to Morning

Bestselling author Henry Patterson (known as Jack Higgins) reached superstar status with his 1975 novel The Eagle Has Landed. However, beginning as early as 1959, Patterson began authoring a number of action-adventure novels using pseudonyms like Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe and, of course, Jack Higgins. Patterson wrote four novels under the name James Graham, including 1974's The Run to Morning. This novel was also released that same year under the title of  Bloody Passage. As if things couldn't get any more complicated, the combination of Higgins, Graham and Fallon were all listed as author names for the many various printings of this novel under the two titles. Considering all of the publishing and marketing strategies, did the author deliver a worthwhile reading experience?

The book begins with one of the most effective opening paragraphs that I can recall:

“The first shot ripped the epaulette from the right hand shoulder of my hunting jacket, the second lifted the thermos flask six feet into the air. The third kicked dirt at my right heel, but by then I was moving fast, diving headfirst into the safety of the reeds on the far side of the dyke.”

From that opening segment, readers are introduced to Oliver Grant, a man with a unique profession. After developing a skill-set of freeing captives during the Vietnam War, Grant now runs a successful, illegal business of breaking into international prisons and liberating select prisoners. His clientele are wealthy businessmen, politicians and criminals (there's a fine line between the three) that pay top dollar to free associates, family and friends. When Grant is asked to break into a Libyan prison for a corrupt businessman named Stavrou, he politely declines fearing the regime's vicious dictatorship. But shortly after his declination, Grant's blind sister Hannah is kidnapped by Stavrou's cartel and held as a bargaining chip.

The first 100-pages of The Run to Morning features Grant's realization that Stavrou's step-son is being held in a notorious, cliff-side prison that is reputed to be impenetrable. To assist with the mission, Grant recruits a former U.S. Army Green Beret, a skilled mountain climber and a boat captain. Complicating Grant's teamwork is a vile henchman named Langley, a man that reports directly to Stavrou, and Stavrou's lover Simone. Once the escape is underway, Grant begins to believe that the whole operation is just a set-up. But why? That's the question as readers plunge into the riveting second-half narrative.

While The Run to Morning had some gaping plot holes, it's still better than 90% of the books I read and review. Higgins' storytelling style and his ability to construct these international espionage adventures make for an exhilarating reading experience. The narrative's recruitment stage was intriguing with the addition of Langley and his effect on Grant's mission. The love interest angle between Simone and Grant was an evolution, eventually revealing its true nature. The Simone character was a slow development and from a reading experience, the author's patience was a key component to her impact on the story.

From exciting nautical chases, explosive gunfire and a brilliant prison raid, The Run to Morning was another thrilling addition to Higgins' impressive catalog. Highly recommended!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Dark Side of the Island

The Dark Side of the Island was Jack Higgins' (real name: Henry Patterson) eighth novel, originally published in hardcover by John Long in 1964. After the author's success with The Eagle has Landed (1975), many of Patterson's earlier works were reprinted under the household name of Jack Higgins. The Dark Side of the Island was reprinted countless times and remains in print today. My copy is the 1977 Fawcett Gold Medal pictured.

The novel is divided into three separate sections, each showcasing a pivotal point in time for protagonist Hugh Lomax. The first section, “The Long Return”, introduces Englishman Lomax to readers as he docks on the tiny Greek island of Kyros. Lomax's history with Kyros is connected to a perilous mission he undertook as a Special Forces officer in World War 2. After Lomax's recent family tragedy, he wants to find himself again and believes that reconnecting with the islanders will help with the healing.

The first person Lomax finds is his ex-Special Forces partner Alexias Pavlo, a Kyros native who runs a bar called The Little Ship. It is there that Lomax sees a lot of familiar faces that aren't welcoming his arrival. When Alexias sees Lomax, all hell breaks loose and the crowd attempts to gut Lomax like a fish. At knife-point, Alexias explains that Lomax's war mission cost the island years of suffering in concentration camps and killed many of their friends and family. The shocked Lomax is rescued by the sheriff and begins to piece together the events of his past.

This riveting opener is just the tip of the iceberg. Segment two is called “The Nightcomer”, and, as you'd suspect, it showcases the harrowing 48-hour mission in Kyros during the war. It picks up as Lomax and Alexias, aided by Sergeant Boyd, undertake a secret mission in Kyros to destroy a radar station hidden in an old monastery. This is 50-pages of the best men's adventure fiction you'll ever read. Of course the mission is compromised, so the three men are assisted by Alexias' beautiful niece Katina and a famed author named Oliver Van Horn. Without ruining the story for you, let's just say Lomax gains an assist from many of the people that occupied The Little Ship in the opening segment. After all of these years, why would those people now hate Lomax?

“A Sound of Hunting”, the book's closing segment, explains what happened on Kyros after Lomax's covert mission – executions, concentration camps and separation. When the pieces begin to fit, Lomax finds himself a fugitive with his only aid being Katina and a young boy. As the hounds of justice howl, the town's torch lights come closer and closer as Higgins squeezes the narrative into one epic showdown...and absolutely nails it.

There's a handful of men's action-adventure novels that I would consider mandatory for the “deserted on an island” predicament and I'd have to include this novel in the mix. 

It is a phenomenal piece of literature with one distinct purpose – to entertain the reader. Sometimes we just get caught up in searching for divine meaning or a subversive message to symbolize some sort of real world affair. What I love about this novel, and Higgins in particular, is that it's just action and adventure without an agenda. Nothing more, nothing less. It's an admirable entertain the paying consumers. For that, I applaud Higgins' efforts with The Dark Side of the Island. This is a mandatory read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 25, 2019

East of Desolation

“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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 11, 2019

Paul Chavasse #04 - Midnight Never Comes

Household name Jack Higgins, real name Henry Patterson, achieved mega-success with his novel “The Eagle Has Landed” in 1975. Selling 50 million copies, consumers then flocked to his books, prompting savvy publisher Fawcett Gold Medal to conceive a clever marketing design. Fawcett reprinted a much earlier series of hardback books starring British secret agent Paul Chavasse in 1978. The mainstream literary community didn't realize these novels were written by Harry Patterson under the pseudonym Martin Fallon, originally published between 1962 and 1978. The Fawcett series had new artwork and the author's name as the more familiar Jack Higgins. Thankfully, it wasn't just a cash grab because these books truly deserved a bigger audience.

In the series debut, readers learned that Paul Chavasse is a British operative working for a special organization called The Bureau. Paul works under the direction of Bureau Chief Mallory and takes on jobs that are too tough for MI-5 or Secret Service. There's not much history that is pertinent to the story. However, we learn that Paul's parents were French and English, he's fluent in most languages, and has been with The Bureau for 10 years going into “Midnight Never Comes,” the fourth series installment.

The novel opens with Paul weak and broken after an ill-fated assignment in Albania chronicled in the series third novel, “The Keys to Hell”. Paul has gunshot wounds and broken bones that haven't healed. Yet, The Bureau wants him to pass an endurance and shooting test. Ultimately, Paul fails and is seemingly put out to pasture. While on leave of absence, Paul reflects on his career and life and wants out of the espionage business. However, all of that is turned upside down in the opening chapters.

While in London, Paul finds himself in the middle of a robbery at an Asian restaurant. After Paul saves the restaurant and a young woman, the business owner volunteers to replenish Paul's stamina and health using ancient traditions. A few weeks later, Paul is as good as new and even passes the endurance test for The Bureau (which results in an exhilarating plot twist). His newest assignment is to stop a wealthy Australian terrorist named Donner from acquiring a new rocket prototype. The mission's locale is the northwest section of Scotland, a rural and rugged coastline with thick fog, battering winds and locals who love to kill strangers.

“Midnight Never Comes” is a more subdued Chavasse novel and downplays the globe-trotting intrigue. The book reads like a rural adventure crossed with an unusual Gothic sensibility. In fact, Higgins paints the atmosphere with a cold mist and sets the climactic finale in an crumbling lakeside castle. Is it a spy novel or the next 'Doc Savage'?

Thankfully, readers will be delighted with the storytelling and suspense. Higgins seems to really enjoy this character and it's a triumphant installment in a highly rewarding series. I can't say enough good things about it. Either buy the originals, or pick up the mass market reprints from the 2000s.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 21, 2019

Paul Chavasse #01 - Testament of Caspar Schultz (aka Bormann Testament)

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 six-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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 16, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 11

We're on the road to adventure! This episode, Eric discusses author Jack Higgins including his WW2 novel "The Dark Side of the Island" from 1964. Tom reviews "The President is Missing!", a 1967 book by Henry A. Milton. Eric tells listeners about hitting the jackpot at a flea market shop in Florida. Listen below or download directly LINK. Also, stream anywhere that offers podcasts. Listen to "Episode 11: Jack Higgins" on Spreaker.