Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Hell Is Too Crowded by Jack Higgins, 1962

Patti Abbot has all the links to Friday's Forgotten Books at her blog Pattinase.

“I’d have followed you to Hell if necessary,” Brady said.

“But Hell is too crowded, my friend,” Davos smiled gently. “There was never anything of a personal nature in this affair, Brady.”


Hell Is Too Crowded is a murder mystery which is interesting because Jack Higgins, the best-known pseudonym of British writer Harry Patterson, doesn’t write many of them. He usually writes spy and war thrillers in which the main characters are kind mercenaries, tough and battle-scarred, idealists with a fatalistic view of life, loners with little hope of any kind of redemption.

Matthew Brady has none of those characteristics but the structural engineer from Boston, Massachusetts, isn’t the kind of hero you'd normally find in a Jack Higgins novel. He is, in fact, a normal person who has been drinking to forget the woman who dumped him and ran off with his money. Standing alone on the embankment of the Thames in England, cut off from all human beings, Brady tries to make sense out of his life, when an attractive woman called Marie Duclos runs into him in the thick fog, apparently trying to get away from a stalker.

As gracious as all of Higgins’ heroes are, Brady is instinctively protective of her and accepts her invitation to spend the night at her place. He kisses her, has a drink, and passes out. When he opens his eyes, he finds himself in someone else’s nightmare—framed for the grisly murder of the French woman, a known prostitute.

“Her clothes had been ripped and shredded from her body. She sprawled there wantonly, her thighs spattered with blood, but it was the face which was the ultimate horror, a sticky, glutinous mess of pulped flesh.”

Inspector Mallory and Detective Gower of Scotland Yard take the half-dazed and half-drugged Matthew Brady into custody and it’s not long before he finds himself condemned to spend the rest of his innocent life in Manningham Gaol, a maximum-security prison.

Now Brady may not be anything like Sean Dillon or Paul Chavasse, the ex-IRA turned British agents and two of the author’s most famous heroes, but what he has in common with them is plenty of guts, a fighting spirit, a penchant for stupid risks, a brazen attitude, and the knowledge that he could be going down a one-way street.

Unbelievably, Brady escapes from Manningham and begins his hunt for the man (or men) who framed him. I found it slightly reminiscent of Andy Dufresne's escape from the Shawshank State Penitentiary in The Shawshank Redemption.

There hasn't been a Jack Higgins novel that doesn’t have a lovely girl in it. Anne Dunning, the daughter of Harry Dunning who worked with Brady on a dam project in Brazil, crops up out of nowhere and joins him in his quest. Their love is unspoken. Together, they unearth the truth behind the frame-up and discover why Brady was made scapegoat. The book is less than 120 pages, so I have given away very little.


Final word
Hell Is Too Crowded sounds like the title of a hardboiled noir paperback. It isn't. It’s a simple and uncomplicated story of a man who is at the wrong place at the wrong time. It has been done before. There is plenty of action thanks mainly to Brady’s knack for getting into trouble. The end is predictable though it's not always so in some other novels of Jack Higgins, who has written this one in his characteristic mild-to-moderate style. A decent read.


My previous reviews of Jack Higgins novels:

1. The Keys of Hell, 1965
2. The Iron Tiger, 1966
3. A Fine Night for Dying, 1969
4. A Prayer for the Dying, 1973
5. Storm Warning, 1976

18 comments:

  1. I've read several HIggins books and enjoyed them. Haven't read this one though. I don't know why I don't read more of his. I always enjoy them when I do.

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    1. Charles, his books are mild compared to those of his contemporaries in the spy and thriller genres. He knows how to tell a good story, though. His WWII novel NIGHT OF THE FOX was one of many excellent film adaptations starring George Peppard, Deborah Raffin, John Mills, and Michael York.

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  2. I never knew Higgins wrote mysteries, I had him pegged as a spy, action, war author. I think I've only read him once years ago, and I can't recall the title. I'll keep half an eye out for this secondhand - you can usually find his books available in charity shops for a song. It will need to be before the end of the month though!

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    1. Col, I'm a huge Jack Higgins fan. You're right that he is more famous for his spy and war thillers than his mysteries. I'll have to find out how many mysteries he has written. I've been reading his books on and off since the 80s and love the way he writes and develops his main characters usually dark and brooding. Some things like references to the IRA and graveyards are common in his novels. I'd recommend THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE, THE SAVAGE DAY, and A PRAYER FOR THE DYING, all very entertaining books.

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    2. I meant to ask you have you sampled Gerald Seymour's work. I have read a couple and he maybe picked up the mantle when Higgins work waned.

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    3. Col, I'm familiar with Gerald Seymour's name though I haven't read any of his novels. It'd be interesting to see how Jack Higgins might have influenced his work. Thanks for bringing the author to my notice.

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  3. This must have been one of his fort novels, presumably? I'd never heard of it - thanks Prashant.

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. HELL IS TOO CROWDED is one of Higgins' earliest novels. I like the titles of many of his books, such as this one.

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  4. You and Bill Crider both reviewed Jack Higgins novels for FFB this week! Higgins was my favorite adventure writer up until the 1980s. Prolific and entertaining!

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    1. George, I'm glad we did. It's good to see Patterson/Higgins isn't forgotten. He is still one of my favourite writers. I think his books were good until only the 80s.

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  5. Glad to see another review of Patterson/Higgins today. He's one of my favorites.

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    1. Bill, thanks for visiting and commenting. I haven't read SAD WIND FROM THE SEA which you reviewed for FFB this week. His books are my staple diet.

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  6. Two Patterson / Higgins reviews in the same week. What are the odds? You intrigue me with this review, Prashant. I may have to try one.

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    1. Richard, I've got into the habit of recommending Jack Higgins to whoever reads action-thrillers. I hope you read some of his novels and review them.

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  7. Have heard of Higgins but have never read him. This seems interesting though. Thanks for highlighting it, Prashant. I'll see whether I can get a copy.

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    1. You're welcome, Neer. I write about Jack Higgins every now and then. I'm surprised you haven't read his novels. In the 70s and 80s he was one of many popular authors like Forsyth, Deighton, Cook, Archer, Ludlum, and Follett.

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  8. Prashant, I must have been working too hard and missed this post. I am very interested in Jack Higgins. But I don't think I have read any of his books. We have the movie The Eagle Has Landed ... that might be a good place to start. Thanks for the recommendations... in your reply to Col. I will check out your other reviews.

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    1. No problem, Tracy. Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson in real life) has written some excellent thrillers with WWII, the Cold War, and Espionage as key themes. I recommend his early novels written in the 60s and 70s. I hope you read the book THE EAGLE HAS LANDED before you watch the movie. You'll like the character of Liam Devlin, the ex-IRA member and poet who appears in two other books. I've always wondered why Higgins didn't write him more often.

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