Writers We Like #3: Dennis Drayton on Jack Higgins

Last time I mentioned how the publication of “East of Desolation” marked the ascent of not-so-new author Jack Higgins. I think if I may say so myself, that it was a total fan-boy rave. As I said “Yes I was proud to be a Jack Higgins fan-boy back in the day.  I eventually … tracked down many of his psuedonyms so that I could keep reading more and more Higgins…”

Truly for quite a few years I couldn’t get enough Jack Higgins. By the eighties, his publishers were coyly admitting that Harry Patterson was Jack Higgins and vice versa, but I went further and discovered that he was also James Graham. By that time his various other earlier pen-names had been tidied up, but the Grahams were still in the library in their original guise. I not only wanted to read Higgins, I wanted to become a writer in the same style.

However, as with many a torrid love affair, eventually I suffered from Jack Higgins poisoning. It was a slow enough process, but times and people and tastes changed, and me and Jack diverged. At which point I began to notice more strongly The Dark Side of Jack Higgins (pun intended, he has several books with titles beginning “The Dark Side of …”)

I particularly devoured and still think uncritically of the “middle period” Jack Higgins of “The Eagle Has Landed” up to (but not including) “The Eagle has Flown” period.

There is the “early” or pre-Higgins, some of which I didn’t care for at all (“Testament of Caspar Schulz”,  I’m looking at paint-by-the-numbers you)

And the  “late-early” Higgins which I would rate it just below the “mid” and above the “late” period books. The James Graham books are pretty strong.

Then we have the  Dillon-Fegusson series and this is where the divergence occurs. I think from looking at Amazon reviews that there is a dividing line and that Jack Higgins is an acquired taste, partly  because he has been so prolific that being a fan of some of his books doesn’t mean being a fan of all – for instance a lot of people seem to be fans of Dillon-Fergusson series and not of the earlier books and in my case I would be the opposite. I enjoyed Thunder Point particularly for it being The Testament of Caspar Schulz done right, but for the most part I find them facile, the few that I read before giving up on them —I never really understood or believed in Dillon’s transformation from renegade Irish Terrorist to committed British Secret Agent.

But even with the books I loved, I began to notice his penchant for sticking in some black and white movie cliches and even whole  plots seem to be lifted from noir-period movies, which haven’t dated as much as the movies themselves it’s true, but it gets irritating after the first ten go-rounds,

Also he has  re-used and recycled characters, character names and whole plots with a bewildering frequency that you can pretty much guarantee there will be somebody called Kelso, or Steiner, a small dark man (swiped from the author of The Quiet Man, which is another post), bar fights ended by somebody shooting the ceiling. Nazi paratroopers, Irish terrorists etc etc

And in the later books, especially since Dillon became a plot machine, that the distinct voices of the characters has been lost and everybody speaks exactly the same way, like in a Joss Wheedon movie. They have got witter too, like the characters in a Joss Wheedon movie.

So, having read maybe fifty of them, I have ‘nt read a new one for maybe fifteen years, but I do dip back into the old ones to recapture the magic from time to time and see if it’s still there. And usually it is.

 

 

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