Thursday, June 02, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Wrath of God

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."


Cullen Gallagher said...

I'm not familiar with Jack Higgins, but this sounds like it would be up my alley. Thanks for the recommendation!

August West said...

I favor his early stuff, High adventure with charismatic and tough lead characters. Higgins' early novels took me along on explosive undertakings. I reread them regularly. My favorites are " The Khufra Run" and "A Game for Heroes." Both he also authored under the James Graham name.

Sadly, I don't care much for the recent Sean Dillon series. But they are blockbusters for him.

Ben Boulden said...

I agree that his early work is also his best work. He repeats himself--phrases, names--but he does it in a way that is forgivable. It's probably because he has such a fluid and easy style littered with a cool flair that only he can produce. My favorites are THE SAVAGE DAY, THE KEYS OF HELL, EAST OF DESOLATION and whatever title I have in my hand when asked. His later work, post bestseller status loses some of the vitality of his early work, but it is really pretty good until he started the Sean Dillon novels in the 1990s--I haven't been able to finish one since the third or fourth.

MacLean was also a hell of an action / adventure writer. FEAR IS THE KEY, WHERE EAGLES DARE, and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE are simply fantastic--the second two are technically the best, but the first was fun as hell. Unfortunately his work deteriorated significantly in the last decade or more of his career.

mybillcrider said...

I love the early Higgins thrillers. I think that they started downhill after THE EAGLE HAS LANDED,

RJR said...

I'm also an early Higgins fan, especially the Grahams, but one of my big fave is A PRAYER FOR THE DYING.


Fred Blosser said...

Ed, if you like Higgins, check Derek Robinson's war novels (PIECE OF CAKE, GOSHAWK SQUADRON, WAR STORY, etc) if you haven't read them.

Brendan DuBois said...

In his early books, MacLean really rocked... Guns of Navarone, HMS Ulysses... great, great stuff...