Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Wrath of God

I'm rereading The Wrath of God by Jack Higgins (originally published as by James Graham and some of those editions are still around) one of my favorite adventure novels by one of my favorite adventure writers.

The early Higgins novels hold up extremely well mixing, as they do, protagonists bitter over the Irish troubles, ready to fight even kill if necessary and and always aware of how corrupt political systems are.

Wrath is set in Mexico during the time of the Revolution at the start of the last century. It is a frightening book in its take on humanity and political beliefs. The murderous priest who is not a priest, the obscene mobster-type, the devious officers of the regular Army...and of course the slaughter of innocents. If the book wasn't so page-turning exciting and filled with numrous switch-backs in the plotting you'd realize how despairing it really is.

A fine harsh believable novel about political systems then and--alas--now.

I found an interesting Australian interview with Higgins, a part of which I'm quoting here:

Which writers have inspired you?

"There are writers I've read, at a literary level, who write different kinds of books than me. I suppose that when I was trying to hone my skills, I very much admired Graham Greene. I admired classic writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was never a Hemingway fan. But, in terms of thriller writers I always admired Alistair Maclean at his best – HMS Ulysses, The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare. Years later when his health wasn't good, a few of the novels became shorter and thinner, but that was because at that stage he found it more convenient to write them as film scripts.

"He was very good to me because once I was coming out of the Collins offices and my name was shouted; I turned around and it was Maclean, and he'd been in the building and he'd asked the receptionist who I was. So he came out and called to me and insisted that we had a drink, and we sat in the pub. He simply said, "I've read your book and you've really got big potential. I think you're going to make it in a big way". Then we had a general chat about life and publishing, where he made a few points that I'll always remember: that he'd given up reading reviews, that people will put you down because you're not writing a Booker Prize book, you're writing a thriller.

And he said, "after all I have an MA in English Literature from Glasgow University." So he said, "I'm hardly a fool." He said to me, "What about you?" "Well yes, in fact, I'm a Senior Lecturer at a university." I saw him again quite a long time later, and he liked The Eagle Has Landed so much he gave us a great puff, which stayed on the cover for years. Nice man. His work at his best was definitely an inspiration."


Unknown said...

I reread this one a couple of years ago and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. Higgins did indeed do some fine stuff, not that he's any slouch now.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

_The Wrath of God_ was made into a (not very good) 1972 film with Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth, and a young Frank Langella.

Fred Blosser said...

According to Lee Server's bio of Mitchum, the movie was plagued by a series of misfortunes -- Ken Hutchison gashed his hand on a broken glass, necessitating a break in filming, and Rita Hayworth, in early stages of Alzheimer's, had trouble getting through scenes. Hutchison was very good as Keogh, although the script jettisons much of the backstory about Keogh's career as a gunman for Michael Collins.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Alistair MacLean... is he ever remembered now? Remembered reading his Satan Bug, HMS Ulysses, Where Eagles Dare, and numerous others. A great thriller writer... and does anybody remember Tony Kenrick from the 1970s? A Tough One to Lose, the 81st Site... so sad that so many great works just disapper.

Unknown said...

I did a "forgotten books" post on MacLean a few weeks back. Lots of people seem to remember him. I think his early stuff is great.

Ben Boulden said...

Alistair MacLean's early work rocks. I don't think any writer of thrillers or anything else could build suspense and tension and then trick the reader with a brilliant plot twist. His stuff was great. His later novels lacked just about everything that made his early work great.

And Higgins. I have read and re-read just about everyhting he wrote up through 1990. His Sean Dillon novels bore me, but his early stuff was awesome, especially the thin thrillers he wrote before he broke out onto the bestseller lists with THE EAGLE HAS LANDED. But really I like everything he wrote right up to the Dillon stuff.


Anonymous said...

I second a dislike for the Dillon books, but only because the concept of the former IRA soldier helping the British doesn't make much sense considering how Dillon got his start (the book where he tried to bomb 10 Downing St., I forgot the title). The way he was recruited, and what he was doing when the Brits "had him where they wanted him" in the book following the first I didn't buy, it didn't seem like Dillon would ever be a humanitarian or get involved with the Brits, and that ruined the Dillon adventures for me. But Higgins is a great plotter and writes very clean prose and I should read him more often than I do.

Ray said...

Alistair McLean, along with Desmond Bagley and Jack Higgens are among the best of British writers.
H.M.S. Ulysses ranks up there with 'The Cruel Sea'.
Best line in 'Wrath Of God' - "My Father in Heaven can beat your Father in Heaven" - just sums up all religeous differences.