Tuesday, October 01, 2013

THE THOUSAND FACES OF NIGHT by Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins)

The Thousand Faces of Night is the third novel published by Harry Patterson.  It was released as a hardcover by John Long in 1961.  It features a protagonist, Hugh Marlowe, which Mr Patterson later used as a pseudonym for three of his early novels published by Aberlard-Schuman.  The Marlowe moniker appeared on the non-Paul Chavasse novels published by Aberlard. 

Hugh Marlowe is a violent man.  He spent five years in prison for armed robbery, and while he never rolled on his cohorts, he also never shared the loot.  The novel opens with Marlowe’s release from Wandsworth, and waiting outside in the shadows is Mr Faulkner and two heavies.  Mr Faulkner’s crew abandoned Marlowe (and the take) when the robbery went bad, and now Faulkner wants the money.  Marlowe makes his escape, and with Faulkner’s heavies and the detective who investigated the robbery on his tail, decides to disappear until the heat burns low.
He finds a small town called Litton where he can hide.  He finds a job driving a truck for a small farmer who runs a cooperative, but he also finds trouble.  The farmer, a Portuguese immigrant named Papa Magellan, is being squeezed by a larger operator, and Marlowe can’t keep out of it. 

The Thousand Faces of Night is the weakest of Mr Patterson’s first three novels.  The plot is the simplest, and while Mr Patterson has never been accused of over developing his characters, the protagonist has very little flesh.  With this said, it is a quick, and exciting read.  Its plot is a 1980s television drama—think the A-Team, Incredible Hulk, etc.—where an outsider protagonist gets involved, and solves (at seemingly great personal risk), the problems of sympathetic strangers.
There are a few interesting elements in the novel, which are unlike much of Mr Patterson’s work.  There is a sex scene (not terribly detailed) between Marlowe and the antagonist’s niece.  Hugh Marlowe unwittingly gives his plan to save the Magellan farm to the antagonist, and he seemingly goes out of his way to hurt the Magellan’s daughter with both words and actions. 

The prose is stark.  The action is vintage Patterson (short, brutal, and believable), and the descriptions are simple and vivid—

“The hotel backed on to a maze of railway lines and he could see Paddington Station over to the left.  Beneath the window a pile of coke reared against the wall, and there was an engine getting up steam not far away.”
The Thousand Faces of Night is far from Harry Patterson’s best work, but it is an exciting adventure crime novel (more adventure than crime).  And what’s more, it added at least one word to my vocabulary—cosh, which is a weighted hand weapon much like a blackjack.  Now I just need to find the right conversation to use it.

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