Friday, 5 September 2014

The Dark Side of the Island by Jack Higgins, 1963

Yet another review of a novel by my favourite author, for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

My 1987 Coronet Books edition
The Dark Side of the Island is one of the earliest and lesser-known novels of Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson). It ranks amongst the best of his early output out of a total of some eighty novels, starting with Sad Wind from the Sea in 1959 and culminating with The Eagle Has Landed in 1975, which built his formidable reputation as a thriller and espionage writer.

Since then, Higgins has produced over forty novels, and from the ones I have read, none are nearly as good as his early fiction.

At just a little over 150 pages, The Dark Side of the Island is set towards the close of World War II and many years after. It has some of the hallmarks of a Jack Higgins novel—a tough and battle hardened hero with a conscience, an idyllic setting torn apart by war, an anti-German resistance movement, a beautiful woman with trust in her heart and courage in her soul and, of course, betrayal which is what the story is about.

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Captain Hugh Lomax returns to Kyros seventeen years after he came to the picturesque Greek Island to destroy a Nazi stronghold—a strategic radar station—in a secret British Intelligence operation. The reason for his sudden return eludes him but he knows something terrible happened after the successful operation and although he was caught by the Germans, he managed to escape and spend the peacetime years in England and later in California where he worked as a scriptwriter and a novelist of sorts. Now he is back to find out what happened on the island that night more than a decade ago.

The novel is built into three sections, present, past, and present—‘The Long Return,’ when Lomax comes back after the war and is shocked to find that the locals, including old friends from the Resistance, have turned so hostile as to want him dead; ‘The Nightcomer,’ a flashback, where we get a glimpse of the secret operation and what happened after; and ‘A Sound of Hunting,’ which aptly begins with the chapter ‘One Should Never Return to Anything,’ and where Lomax finally discovers the horrible truth—a friend who betrayed the locals to the Germans and condemned them to hell, and who ensured Lomax took the blame for it.

Final word
The Dark Side of the Island is a well-written mystery of sorts that begins during the war and ends years later. The trust and betrayal aspects are done well as the very people Lomax befriended and worked with during the war are now out to kill him. His bewilderment at the hateful reception he gets upon his return is convincing. Like many of Higgins’ protagonists, Lomax has two faces: he is mild, caring, and conscientious on one hand and bitter, tough, and ruthless on the other, depending on who he is dealing with. The story moves at a quick pace and there is good suspense and action towards the end. Any Jack Higgins fan will enjoy this novel.

On another note, it was interesting to see two chapters in the third part of the book, ‘A Sound of Hunting,’ were titles of books he wrote later, namely A Fine Night for Dying (1969) and Confessional (1985). 


Also, the young German commanding officer in charge of Kyros island is one Colonel Steiner who, I'd like to think, is the same Steiner who plays a more critical role in the plot to kidnap Churchill in The Eagle Has Landed (1975). Michael Caine played the role in the 1976 film version directed by John Sturges. I must hasten to add, however, that Steiner has a nominal part in The Dark Side of the Island and dies in the end, or so we are told.   


Note: Ben Boulden, who reviews a variety of books including thrillers, mysteries, and sf, wrote a fine review of this novel over at his blog Gravetapping, April 8, 2014. 

20 comments:

  1. I read a bunch of his in the 70s and 80s but not many lately. I always did like him though and I have several of his works in my tbr piles.

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    1. Charles, I read a Jack Higgins novel every couple of months. He has been so prolific that I doubt I'll ever run out of his books.

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  2. Another one of his I haven't read - thansk Prashant, sounds very worthwhile - I'll keep an eye out for a copy.

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    1. Sergio, you're welcome. Higgins' war and espionage fiction is rather mild compared to those of his contemporaries. I like the way he portrays his main characters who are usually humane and compassionate.

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    2. That sounds really attractive to me Prashant, thanks.

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    3. Sergio, I'd enjoy reading your reviews of Jack Higgins novels. I hope you get round to reading some of them, especially his early work. As far as his stories go, Higgins has been truly versatile, even though war and espionage form the backdrop of a majority of his novels. He describes some of his leading heroes as “dead man walking” who seem to be going through the motions of life.

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  3. THE EAGLE HAS LANDED was one of the first books I purchased as a kid from the Doubleday Book Club...I keep meaning to get back to Higgins, but have yet to do so...

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    1. Higgins has been a great advocate for Harold Robbins...rather as with Fritz Leiber defending H.P. Lovecraft, the booster is a much better artist than the hero!

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    2. Nope, wait, I think I'm thinking of Ken Follett pushing for more recognition these years for Robbins (usually a terrible writer, but a consistent bestseller during his life).

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    3. Todd, I manage to read and re-read a handful of Jack Higgins every year. I must have read THE EAGLE HAS LANDED at least thrice and each time it has held up. It set the benchmark of quality for his novels before and after 1975, although that may be disputed considering Higgins wrote some fine stuff prior to THE EAGLE, such as A FINE NIGHT FOR DYING and THE SAVAGE DAY, and especially THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE which is set in the Amazon jungle. I highly recommend that particularly novel.

      I have read nearly every Robbins and, in my opinion, A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER and 79, PARK AVENUE are two of his best novels though some would add NEVER LOVE A STRANGER and WHERE LOVE HAS GONE too. DESCENT FROM XANADU is probably his worst.

      I agree, Robbins was a "terrible writer, but a consistent bestseller," especially if you compare him with his peers at the time, particularly successful writers of immensely popular fiction (at least in India) like Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Jeffrey Archer, Desmond Bagley, Alistair MacLean, Dick Francis, Len Deighton, Robin Cook, and Wilbur Smith.

      One thing I'll say about Robbins: his paperbacks, written in a freewheeling and straightforward style and embroidered with sex and sensuality, sold like hot cakes in my neck of the woods.

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  4. Novels like this seem meant for the movies. Lots of suspense and action to keep you on the edge of your seat.

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    1. Ron, many of Higgins' novels have been made into movies, including THE EAGLE HAS LANDED which has Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland in the lead roles. In fact, there are film versions of books written by many of the writers I mentioned in my response to Todd's comment, notably Ken Follett's THE DAY OF THE JACKAL and Alistair MacLean's THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. Plenty of suspense and action, I agree.

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  5. Sounds like a very good read, Prashant. I will be on the outlook for more books by Higgins.Especially this one and THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. I'm biased towards Jack Higgins and have liked most of his novels that I have read so far. You won't be disappointed with THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE.

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  6. I have read other Jack Higgins, but not this one. Intriguing review, I'd better put it on my list...

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    1. Moira, thank you. I can't find fault with Jack Higgins' early novels. I like them also because he doesn't go into too many details and descriptions like, say, Frederick Forsyth, whose research reflects in most of his novels. Higgins tells it like it is.

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  7. Higgins reviews are always most welcome. I have this but haven't read it yet - bumping it up the queue now,

    Colin

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    1. Colin, thank you. I have no hesitation in bumping Jack Higgins up my own list of books to be read. I still have a few more on my shelf. I'll probably get a couple of them out of the way before this year ends.

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  8. I ought to try one or two of these, maybe next year. Hopefully I don't get addicted, so I want to enjoy them but not too much!

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    1. Col, I have been addicted to Jack Higgins' novels since the late eighties. His novels are mild but they are filled with action and suspense.

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