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Monday 27 December 2021

Jack Higgins - Review of two early thrillers



This is an early Jack Higgins novel, originally published under his real name Harry Patterson in 1962, reprinted by Fawcett in 1976 and reissued here in 1977 with the name-change and the strap-line ‘by the author of The Eagle Has Landed’.

It’s a pot-boiler and reveals that Higgins was learning his trade.

Matt Brady was inebriated when he met the woman; he was ‘caught between the shadow lines of sleep and waking when strange things fill the mind’ (p5). One wonders if Higgins was alluding to the Joseph Conrad book The Shadow Line (1917) which depicts the threshold of a young man entering adulthood at sea. The woman was wearing a trench-coat and a scarf ‘peasant-fashion’.

‘A ship moved down the Pool of London sounding its foghorn like the last of the dinosaurs lumbering aimlessly through a primeval swamp, alone in a world that was already alien.’ (p5) Here, Higgins might be referencing Ray Bradbury’s classic short story ‘The Foghorn’ (1951).

Once in the woman’s apartment, he accepts a drink and abruptly passes out. When he comes to, the police are in the room and the woman is dead – her face brutally damaged… Brady is sent to prison for life. He must escape, however, to prove his innocence, which he does manage with some inside help. The trail leads him to several individuals, one of whom is Das who is a proud owner of a Ming vase among other items. In his desperation to get answers, Brady threatens to destroy the valuable vase. (This will be echoed in The Dark Side of the Island when the doctor Van Horn is threatened by the Nazi’s in a similar way).

Brady is befriended by Anne, a young woman, the daughter of a friend who has died. She believes in his innocence. The story behind the woman he was accused of murdering is revealed about three-quarters through the book; after which it’s a case of tracking down the real murderer.

There are several deaths before the denouement is reached.

The book was originally published in the US, I assume, since there were references to ‘color’, ‘hood’ of a car instead of ‘bonnet’, and ‘sidewalk’. Higgins may have been attempting an American point-of-view since Brady was from the States; however, there were other instances of the spelling ‘colour’. These were the days when publishers actually employed people to change the trans-Atlantic vocabulary as appropriate; now, they tend not to bother. None of this spoils the story-telling, which is page-turning.



This is another early Jack Higgins novel, originally published under his real name Harry Patterson in 1963 and reissued here in 1989.

It’s a pot-boiler and reveals he was still learning his trade.

Seventeen years after fighting in the Second World War Hugh Lomax returns to the Greek island of Kyros. The last time he was here he’d been on a secret mission to destroy a vital Nazi radio station. Betrayal and capture followed and he barely escaped with his life. Now, he was back to find out the truth.

The Greek islanders haven’t forgotten him and indeed blame him for talking under Nazi interrogation and costing many innocent lives…

The book is split into three parts: 1) Lomax’s return and being confronted by antagonistic islanders; 2) Flashback to the actual landing on the island and the sabotage and escape and capture; 3) Lomax’s life threatened by the islanders while he seeks the truth.

There’s Katina, a local girl, who wears a scarf ‘peasant-fashion’. She’d been a teenager when they’d met in the war; now she was a mature woman who believes in Lomax’s innocence. Resident ex-pat Van Horn is a successful author and doctor; he’d been useful doctoring during the war. Van Horn was also an archaeologist and had a valuable collection, some of which was broken by the Nazi Steiner. Then there are the few Greek men who survived the Nazi depredations: Alexias, Dimitri, Nikoli, among a few others – any one of whom might have been the traitor…

The story is fast-paced, workmanlike, but the denouement is no great surprise.

Definitely, one for the Jack Higgins completists.

Editorial comments:

Some of Jack Higgins’s favourite words and phrases that are often repeated: ‘somehow’, ‘somewhere’, ‘moment’, ‘a frown on his face’. And: ‘heavy’ – ‘He pushed open the heavy glass door, crossed the heavy carpet soundlessly…’ (TDSOTI, p112).

These were early novels and his apprenticeship eventually paid off with his thirty-sixth novel, The Eagle Has Landed in 1975. The lesson here is blatantly clear: keep writing and improving.

Monday 20 December 2021

NEVER - Book review


Ken Follett’s 800-plus page novel Never (2021) is a warning: small differences of ideology and policy can evolve, step by unwitting step, into devastating global conflict.

The US President is Pauline Green, a wife and mother; she is a moderate unlike her political opponent, Senator James Moore, who is a hawk threatening to challenge Pauline for the Republican nomination.

Tamara Levit is a CIA agent attached to the Chad embassy; she’s working with Tab Sadoul, an attaché at the EU mission there.

Kiah is a widowed mother of Naji, a baby boy, and lives beside Lake Chad.

Abdul Haddad is an undercover CIA officer tracking a consignment of cocaine, which is presently hidden in a bus.

Chang Kai is Vice-Minister for International Intelligence in Beijing. Kai has useful contacts in North Korea and in the United States.

The CCP President is Chen, a moderate, a far cry from the present incumbent.

In several cases their lives will become interlinked; we get to know and feel concern for them as individuals.

Tamara is Abdul’s contact; she passes on information he obtains which is then used to close down insurgents’ camps through lethal force. Kiah joins a group of migrants on the smugglers’ bus, along with Abdul, and a friendship develops. Chad and neighbouring Sudan are at loggerheads. During an incursion an American corporal killed. The weapons used by the insurgents were North Korean. Protests are made, to no avail. An assassination attempt is made on the president of Chad and reprisals result. And so it begins – tit-for-tat diplomacy, escalating gradually…

As usual with Follett, the book is a fast read. He and his consultants have amassed a great deal of insider information regarding the workings of both the US and Chinese political machines. There’s also action, bravery, political chicanery and betrayal.

The sections involving Abdul and Kiah, while interesting and suspense-filled, are secondary to the main thrust of the novel. They do provide a human dimension to the modern plague of people smuggling, however.

As evinced by the outbreak of the Wuhan virus, the Chinese government is reluctant to lose face, and this attitude could well have grave consequences for the world…

Editorial comment:

Thank heaven for an author who doesn’t write ‘she thought to herself’; instead we get, ‘she said to herself’ (p64). (Honestly, who else can you ‘think to’?)

While there’s no real confusion because the individuals are on different continents, one wonders why Follett chose Kiah and Kai for two character names. Generally, writers are advised not to use similar-sounding names (though even Tolkien slipped in Saruman and Sauron!)

Fatima asked Jadda: ‘How will we know what to do?’ (p164) This should be Kiah asking Jadda. Fatima knows this already, being in the system.

Sunday 12 December 2021

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Free until 15 December 2021!

The sky above the city of Lornwater darkens as thousands of red tellars, the magnificent birds of the Overlord, wing their way towards Arisa.


Ulran discovers he must get to Arisa within seventy days and unlock the secret of the scheduled rites. He is joined in his quest by the ascetic Cobrora Fhord, who harbours a secret or two, and also the mighty warrior Courdour Alomar, who has his own reasons for going to Arisa. They learn more about each other – whether it’s the strange link Ulran has with the red tellar Scalrin, the lost love of Alomar, or the superstitious heart of Cobrora.


Plagued by assassins, forces of nature and magic, they cross the plains of Floreskand, combat Baronculer hordes, scale snow-clad Sonalume Mountains and penetrate the dark heart of Arisa. Here they uncover truth, evil and find pain and death.

‘An expansive and well thought story, a must-read for lovers of magic and military fantasy.’

‘Grand in scale, well written and certainly the start of the next series on my bookshelf.’

A fabulous fantasy world so well described that it is easy to see oneself in it, well developed and realistic characters, an exciting plot which does not slow down throughout and makes the reader eager to read on.’

Saturday 4 December 2021


Richard Osman’s second cosy crime novel (2021) is as enjoyable as his first.

The members of the Coopers Chase Thursday Murder Club are meeting again. But it seems that Elizabeth is somewhat distracted. She’s had a letter, an invitation from a man who was in her past and should have stayed there. Despite herself, she is intrigued and meets him…

And so begins a new mystery, with the prime issue being a horde of diamonds stolen from the mafia. Also involved is MI5.

We meet again Joyce, as amusing as ever as she pens her diary, psychiatrist Ibrahim, who suffers a crisis, and old trade unionist Ron. They’re keen to help – or is it hinder? – Elizabeth. Bogdan is also called upon to provide muscle and any heavy lifting.

The life of DCI Chris Hudson has taken a dramatic upturn. He’s romancing an attractive woman and it could turn out to be serious – much to the surprise of his colleague PC Donna De Freitas. These two are trying to find evidence to be used against the local drug dealer Connie Johnson.

The story is bookended neatly with a new sympathetic character, Sylvia Finch.

From the outset and all the way through Osman’s style and humour enhance the telling and characterisation. It isn’t laugh-out-loud but there’s a smile raised on virtually every page. And, as with the first novel, Osman exhibits his affection for these old folk and humanity in general.

There’s a twist or two, terrible but not graphic murders, and even some suspense. Several threads are cleverly and neatly combined satisfactorily.

The title is apt, and can be construed literally or, sadly, medically when relating to a particular devastating illness.

Friday 3 December 2021



Gerald Seymour’s 1995 novel is another one of his authentic thrillers touching upon a gut-wrenching contemporary issue – this time, the Bosnian conflict.

Seymour uses a framing device – an SIS official is reviewing a particular file of events that occurred a couple of years earlier, in 1993. Bill Penn, an MI5 agent who was dismissed, now works as a private investigator – mainly chasing debts and errant husbands and wives. Then he is hired by Mary Braddock. Her daughter Dorrie went missing in 1991 and her body has just been exhumed from a field’s mass grave in former Yugoslovia. Mrs Braddock wants to know how and why Dorrie died.

What begins as a lucrative easy task develops into something darker and more meaningful and moving. Gradually, Penn gets to know the late Dorrie through witness statements. Dorrie’s mother had despaired of her daughter; they’d constantly been at loggerheads. Yet this wasn’t the young woman Penn learned about.

‘It’s always the people who are smug and complacent who send young men across rivers, through minefields, into the heart of danger, and in their arrogance they never pause to consider the consequences.’ (p322)

Despite official censure, Penn goes behind enemy lines in a bid to not only to seek the truth about Dorrie’s brutal death but also to bring to justice the person responsible.

This is a grim tale, with the raw background of a dirty little war that featured genocide and ethnic cleansing. Towards the end it gets extremely tense and harrowing.

Heart-breaking in many instances.

Editorial comment:

Penn uses a mercenary called Ham as a helper. What’s interesting is that Seymour uses an ex-special forces character called Ham in his 2003 thriller Traitor’s Kiss; and not the same guy!


Wednesday 1 December 2021

XPD - Book review


In my 1987 copy of Len Deighton’s 1981 novel it reveals it had been reprinted seven times, so it was certainly popular in the 1980s. Along with other Deighton novels, it is being re-issued as a Penguin modern classic. As you can gather from the dates above, I’ve come to it very late indeed.

XPD refers to ‘expedient demise’ – the fate of anyone who knows too much and is a verifiable security risk.

Set in 1979, ostensibly it’s about a projected movie being made concerning the plunder of German gold in the final phases of the Second World War: that’s the McGuffin. However, it is not so much the gold as certain documents that were also sequestered at the time. It’s most odd that these potentially embarrassing items have not surfaced in the intervening thirty-nine years.

The Director General of MI6, Sir Sydney Ryden, is introduced on the first page. But virtually every occasion thereafter he is referred to as ‘the DG’.

Boyd Stuart, a field agent and son-in-law to the DG is tasked with recovering certain secret documents from the stolen items – items that were rumoured to be source material for the film. The documents concern the secret whereabouts of Winston Churchill on June 11, 1940; did he have a meeting with Hitler in an attempt at making peace? Unlikely though it seems.

Stein is an American, ex-Army, one of a group who purloined the gold and vital documents, and all lived well off the proceeds. Somebody, doubtless for political reasons, wants those documents released to create a wedge between the US and Great Britain. It has to be the Russians… There are now a string of deaths connected with the documents…

The best bits were the flashbacks to the war itself, with Stein. Deighton’s extensive knowledge of the German forces was evident also.

There is a twist at the end concerning ‘the DG’, which is sort of left hanging.

The storyline is unnecessarily complex, but can be followed, even with several protagonists involved. The chase amidst the Hollywood stage setting was probably overdone even in the 1980s and seems contrived here. Sadly, for me, it didn’t hang together, despite my enjoyment of Deighton’s style and amusing asides.

Editorial comments:

On p210 a man with a half-grown beard introduces himself as Jimmy on p211.  Next page, we have ‘Here’s your Mr Stein,’ said the bearded man.

(Why revert to ‘the bearded man when we now know him as Jimmy?)

On p212, there is another man. ‘The man at the stove… offered his hand.’ Four lines further down, we have ‘Jimmy is a communications engineer,’ explained Paul Bock, the man at the stove.’

(Why use ‘the man at the stove again when he could have been introduced as Bock earlier?

Blame the editor.