Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gavetapping: THE VIOLENT ENEMY by Jack Higgins (Hugh Marlowe)

Gravetapping: Ben Boulden

Posted: 12 May 2015 04:09 PM PDT
The Violent Enemy is the film title for Harry Patterson’s 1966 novel A Candle for the Dead. A title that lasted well past the film’s fade to black, and still adorns its covers. It is Mr Patterson’s nineteenth novel. It was published in hardcover by Abelard-Schuman as by Hugh Marlowe, and it is one of only a few of Harry Patterson’s novels to remain out of print in the United States until the recent ebook frenzy.

Sean Rogan is an Irishman serving 12 years in a British prison. He is “Irish” to his is prison mates, and on the outside he is an Organization man, which is to say IRA, convicted of arranging prison breaks for his compatriots. The troubles are largely over, the Organization faded away, and Rogan is awaiting a pardon from the Home Secretary. The pardon never arrives, and Rogan’s old boss, Colum O’More, arranges the logistics for his final break out.

O’More has a plan to get the Organization moving again, but he is ill and desperately needs Sean Rogan’s help to pull it off. The plan is to steal a load of paper currency marked for destruction in a rural town in England’s Lake District. The job is simple, but the talent O’More brought in are the kind for treachery, which, along with betrayal, is the novel’s main tenant.

The Violent Enemy is something of a transitional novel in Harry Patterson’s work. It is similar in story and style to his early novel Cry of the Hunter—the lead characters are similar and the plots are mirror images—but Enemy’s characters, particularly Sean Rogan, are developed more expertly. There is much in Rogan that would appear in Mr Patterson’s later character Liam Devlin, and the female lead, Hannah Costello, is a composite for Mr Patterson’s abused, but lovely, strong, and virtuous woman featured in many of his best novels. A character that, more than any other, I associate with Harry Patterson’s work.

It is also transitional in its use of language. The prose is less adorned with elegant, striking and almost beautiful, passages than most of the early novels. It is starker, and standard. It fits the novel, but I wanted for a passage that forced itself to be reread. There were a few very nice moments, mostly dialogue, which is unusual for Mr Patterson—

“‘A fresh start makes old friends of bad ones,’ he said. ‘A proverb my grandmother was fond of.’”   
And, in response to a prison guard’s optimistic job satisfaction—

“‘I’d rather be the devil,’ Sean Rogan said with deep conviction.”

The Violent Enemy ’s plot is, as always with Harry Patterson, smooth, complete with nothing left dangling, and familiar. Its pace is not perfect—it builds slowly with a few hiccups, but the climax is executed brilliantly. It is far from Mr Patterson’s best work, but it is a very capable and enjoyable thriller.

The Violent Enemy was produced as a film in 1967. It was directed by Don Sharp (Alistair MacLean’s Bear Island, 1979), and starred two pretty good actors as Sean Rogan and Colum O’More—Tom Bell and Ed Begley, respectively. 

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