Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Rain on the Dead by Jack Higgins, 2014

I will give you my verdict right away. Rain on the Dead (2014) is probably the most disappointing Jack Higgins novel I have read till date.

The British writer's 76th action-thriller has a fine cast of characters, all old anti-terrorism hands — legendary ex-IRA gunman Sean Dillon (his 21st appearance), his boss General Charles Ferguson (head of a secret intelligence unit reporting to 10 Downing Street), Captain Sara Gideon (a decorated Afghan war hero), Major Giles Roper (a wheelchair-bound tech whiz), and the Salters, Billy (a gangster turned MI5 agent) and his uncle Harry (who runs a dockside pub and is handy with a gun).


While those are good reasons to read the book, a weak storyline and an even weaker plot are reasons to avoid it. Unless, like me, you're a big Higgins fan and will read anything by the man who gave us such gripping fare as The Last Place God Made (1971), A Prayer for the Dying (1973) and The Eagle Has landed (1975).

Rain on the Dead begins with a failed assassination attempt on the charismatic former US President, Jake Cazalet, at his estate on Nantucket, an island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Unfortunately for the two Al Qaeda-backed Chechen gunmen, Ferguson and his team happen to visit Cazalet just at the time and foil the bid masterminded by a cold and calculated faceless entity called the Master. Not very original, as you can see, and not very scary either.


From there, the action moves to Drumgoole in Ireland, Paris and finally London, as team Ferguson thwarts repeated attempts to kill Cazalet. In frustration, the Master, who reports to some kind of a grand council, hires desperate men, including special ops gone rogue, to bump off Dillon, Gideon and the others, but all in vain.

Here are two more reasons why I did not enjoy the novel as I thought I would.

Apart from the weak plot, the logic or the lack of it, and the occasional typo (yes, those too), I found the writing style, peppered with dialogue, almost amateurish. Preposterous as it may sound, it seemed to me that the book was ghostwritten. The narrative lacked depth and the conversations between the various players were at times school-grade. This was not the Jack Higgins I grew up reading.

The third reason is Sean Dillon, whose role during The Troubles in Northern Ireland haunts him in many of his novels including this one; just as they do Higgins' other ex-IRA heroes. We get a sense that Dillon, though still respected by his peers and feared by his enemies, is growing old and past his prime. In Rain on the Dead, he plays a largely supportive role, always on hand with a Colt .25 but not doing much. The brave and likeable Captain Sara Gideon and the young and reckless Billy Salter take the honours, as they run down the shadowy Master before he can get anywhere near Jake Cazalet (who first appears in Dillon #6 The President's Daughter, 1997). 


So, would I stop reading Higgins? Never. I have many of his books to read and I'm sure I'll enjoy many of those.

16 comments:

  1. I felt nostalgic reading your post. I read Higgins decades ago.

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    1. Mystica, I never stopped reading Higgins since the eighties.

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  2. Prashant – I know how you feel when a favorite author’s work starts to tail off. I stopped reading Robert B. Parker because his stories started feeling thin. Right now I am reading some of Stuart Woods’ later Stone Barrington novels, even though they too are running out of gas.

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    1. Elgin, while I have read a couple of novels by Robert B. Parker, I have bypassed Stuart Woods in the old and new bookshops I visit. He has been a prolific writer and I'd certainly like to read some of his books soon.

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  3. Great review, Prashant. I've been disappointed in many of Higgins' recent novels, but I'm with you. I'll never stop reading his work.

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    1. Thanks, Ben. I think I'll make up for this by reading some of his early novels and there are quite a few I haven't read yet.

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  4. Sorry to hear this one was a bit of a disappointment for you, but I'm sure the next one you pick up will be better!

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    1. Col, I read two or three Higgins every year and until now they have been holding up. I have not read many of his recent novels, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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  5. Nice to see a new post here! Sorry it was such a disappointing read. Of the three you mention as the best Higgins books, which would you recommend for me to try?

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    1. Moira, it feels good to be back — thank you! While all three books are good, I'd start with THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, Himmler's audacious plot to kidnap Churchill on English soil. It was also made into a film starring Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and Donald Sutherland. It's also Higgins most famous work.

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  6. Lovely to see you back here, Prashant! As to the Higgins, even the most talented author can do a disappointing story, especially an author as prolific as Higgins. When that happens to me, I do as you do if it's an author whose work I generally love. I move on to the next book...

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    1. It's nice to be back, Margot! I'm too biased in Higgins' favour to stop reading his books, which I have enjoyed reading since the eighties.

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  7. Sorry to be commenting so late, Prashant. I had seen your post earlier but am now back to comment. Work has been very busy lately, and affecting my blogging time, sad to say. And I am so glad to see a new review from you.

    Good to know your opinion this later Higgins book, but it is the earlier ones I want to read anyway.

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    1. No problem, Tracy. I, too, have been busy with work which left me with very little time to blog on weekdays. I hope to do a book review at least once a week and visit other blogs more frequently than that. You're right, the early Higgins, say, up to 1975, were the best, though there have been a few gems since.

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  8. Given the depth of your disappointment, I take it this was Not one you'd offer for FFB...

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    1. Todd, I'm hoping to get back to reviewing books for FFB, at least twice a month if not every Friday.

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