Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jack Higgins

I've never been a letter writer. I don’t write letters to celebrities, writers, or anyone else I don’t know. In fact, the idea kind of embarrasses me. But sometime around 1994 a friend of mine wrote a letter to Harry Patterson—the guy who became famous as Jack Higgins when he published the bestseller The Eagle Has Landed.

In 1994 Higgins published a novel titled On Dangerous Ground, which was the third novel to feature Higgins’ latest hero Sean Dillon. On Dangerous Ground was a reworking of an earlier novel written by Harry Patterson titled Midnight Never Comes; and my buddy was one of the few people lucky enough to have a copy of the original novel—it was published by Abelard-Schuman in 1966, and there were something liked 1,000 copies printed.

My friend purchased a copy of On Dangerous Ground in hardcover when it hit bookstores, and when, on page ten or eleven, he realized he'd read it before, he got annoyed. Annoyed enough to do the unthinkable: write a letter to the author. He didn’t have an address, but the dust jacket on every Jack Higgins’ novel published in the last twenty-five years reports his residence as Jersey Island. So my buddy addressed his sorta angry letter:

Harry Patterson
aka Jack Higgins
Isle of Jersey, Channel Islands
United Kingdom

Amazingly, a month or two later he received a response from Mr. Patterson. A very kind, somewhat apologetic letter that explained why he had reworked an older novel, and that there was a small notice of the fact on the copyright page. He explained that the original printing had sold very few copies and those only to libraries in the United Kingdom. The letter was double spaced, typed and filled with typos—Patterson explained this by saying he was recovering from a serious scuba diving accident and he only had use of one hand.

For a nerdy, book-loving teenager this was the coolest thing ever. At the time Jack Higgins was my favorite writer and the idea that he would actually climb down from his tower and converse with a lowly fan was astonishing and oh so cool to me. I was so impressed that my friend gave me a photocopy of the letter, and I read and reread this letter dozens of times over the years. And I would probably still get it out and reread it, but I lost it in a move several years ago.

The bottom line: I will never forget the kindness of Mr. Patterson’s response to a mildly disappointed reader. And I will always be a fan of his work—especially those tight, lean, and oh so cool early adventure novels. Those slim titles I wish he were still writing.

NOTE: Midnight Never Comes was the fourth Jack Higgins’ novel to feature the tough and resilient spy Paul Chavesse. Chavesse is a spy who is more blue-collar, tough, and a hell of a lot more fun than James Bond. If you enjoy solid action and top-notch suspense, you should hunt down the Chavesse novels because they never fail to entertain. A few of them have even been reprinted in the past few years; and I hope Berkley has Midnight Never Comes on its schedule.

The Paul Chavesse titles are: The Testament of Caspar Schultz (republished as The Bormann Testament), Year of the Tiger, The Keys of Hell, Midnight Never Comes, The Dark Side of the Street, and A Fine Night for Dying.

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