Showing posts with label Paul Chavasse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Chavasse. Show all posts

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.

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.

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