Saturday, 8 October 2016

Jack Higgins and Tom Sharpe

“Godber was murdered,” said Lady Mary. “I am fully aware that you refuse to believe me, but I know.”
— Opening line of Grantchester Grind, a Porterhouse chronicle, by Tom Sharpe (1995)


Last week, fellow readers and bloggers commended me for the restraint I exercised at the Books by Weight exhibition where I bought just four paperbacks—thank you! But that restraint lasted for all of one week, as I went back and picked up four more novels—two each by British thriller writer Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson) and English satirical novelist Tom Sharpe. What’s with me and number four, I wonder?

My wife, ever the discerning reader, bought a lovely hardback edition of The Wind in the Willows (1908), the acclaimed children's novel by Kenneth Grahame.

This time, too, I took a few pictures one of which threw up a surprise. As I noted on my Facebook wall, I completely overlooked another fine paperback of Ray Bradbury's short story collection Long After Midnight, especially after having bought The October Country the week before. I noticed it only after I returned home and scrolled through my image gallery (see below). It was like developing the family pictures in the dark and discovering a ghostly figure staring over my grandmother’s shoulder.


Higgins is an old favourite and I have several of his secondhand war and espionage fiction. Higgins was at his best from 1959, when he published his first novel Sad Wind from the Sea, through the seventies. Although he wrote almost every year after that, sometimes two to three a year, they were nowhere as good as his early novels.

Hell Is Always Today (1968) is a departure from his traditional plots revolving around the Cold War, British Intelligence, reformed IRA assassins, World War II, and Nazi Germany. This is actually a crime fiction about an escaped prisoner who stalks women on the streets of London and kills them in cold blood. Can Detective Sergeant Nick Miller hunt him down?

We’re pretty hot on on parking tickets, but not so good on maniacs who walk the streets on wet nights murdering women.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate Jack Higgins 9 because his stories are filled with adventure, romantic ideals, and suspense, and are uncomplicated and entertaining. I’d rate him shoulder to shoulder with that other fine storyteller Jeffrey Archer.


I grew up on a regular diet of riveting stories by popular bestselling authors of the second-half of the last century. Writers I can always rely upon to tell me a good story even now. I'm fortunate that I haven't read all of their novels.


© Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad

18 comments:

  1. Interesting. What are your favorites by Higgins? I should sample his work, so point me and in the right direction.

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    1. Tim, I have many favourites including THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (about Himmler's plot to kidnap Churchill; subsequently made into a decent film starring Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland), THE SAVAGE DAY, A PRAYER FOR THE DYING (with Mickey Rourke as the cinematic hero), HELL IS TOO CROWDED, and THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE. Most of his novels published between 1959 and 1979 are good, as are a few others post-1980 such as NIGHT OF THE FOX and A SEASON IN HELL.

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  2. I bought a few Higgins books at a used book fair, but have yet to read any, and they're in a stack in another room and I can't get at them for titles. One has a building shaped like a swastika on the cover, I think. As for the Tom Sharpe, he's new to me, so thanks for the introduction. Good job with 4 more. Get another 5 next week and you'll have a baker's dozen.

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    1. Richard, Books by Weight is held at different venues during the year though I prefer going to their downtown locale because it's more convenient. Many of Higgins' novels have a swastika on the cover. I find his thrillers entertaining.

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  3. I bought a copy of THE EAGLE HAS LANDED at the book sale a couple of weeks ago because I wasn't sure I had a copy (I did). We have the movie too and enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the book, then watching the movie again. And I will note the books you recommended in the reply above.

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    1. Tracy, I'd be very keen to read your review of THE EAGLE HAS LANDED. I preferred the book to the film. Higgins has this knack of creating endearing characters, like the ex-IRA turned teacher-poet Liam Devlin in the above novel.

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  4. Prashant – Thanks for your favorite Higgins novels. I read EAGLE long ago, but need to read more of his work.

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    1. You're welcome, Elgin. I read his books throughout the year. Even now I'm sitting on a pile I'd never read before. Higgins has been prolific though there has been a decline in the quality of his novels over the past two decades.

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    1. True, Charles. And readable and entertaining as well.

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  6. I'm glad you went back, Prashant. Especially since Higgins is one of your top authors, I see no reason not to have as many of his books as you wish.

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    1. Margot, I always go back! In the past I have gone back several times to browse through the books and emerge empty-handed. I do have a decent collection of Jack Higgins.

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  7. I'm sure I've read one by Higgins but I can't remember what, it was such a long time ago. I've read one by Tom Sharpe also which was ok. It didn't shake my world TBH.

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    1. Col, I want to read Tom Sharpe again. I read his books in my teens and remember enjoying them. I like his narrative style.

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  8. Great combination Prashant - haven't read a Sharpe in about 10 years I reckon! With Sharpe some of the more ribald humour won't be to everybody's taste admittedly but I remember laughing a lot, in my youth ...

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. Sharpe is an old favourite. Oh, I remember laughing a lot too but I can see why he won't be everyone's cup of tea. I love good satire.

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  9. Looking at those pics, yeah, I'd have zero restraint myself. Enjoy.

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    1. David, Books by Weight will be back first week of January. I hope they have more Golden Age mystery, sf, and fantasy paperbacks this time.

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