Sunday, May 05, 2013


This is the fifth part of an essay about the six novels Jack Higgins wrote featuring Paul Chavasse titled “Paul Chavasse: An Introduction to the Cold War Spy Story”.  The novels were written throughout the 1960s, and owe much to the James Bond and Matt Helm novels.  The novels were published as by Martin Fallon, and before you read this post, you should read the first four segments of the essay here and here and here and here to put this post in context.

Midnight Never Comes made its debut in 1966.  It was published by John Long in the United Kingdom, and it was a 1974 paperback original published by Fawcett Gold Medal (M3190) in the United States in a pre The Eagle Has Landed edition.  It has been one of the more difficult Paul Chavasse titles to find in the U. S., and large segments of the novel were used, word for word, in Higgins’ On Dangerous Ground published in 1995.  I wrote more about this here.  It, however, has since been republished as an ebook and in trade paperback by Open Road Integrated Media.
Paul Chavasse is a shadow of the man he was before he was stabbed and nearly killed in Albania.  He is weak, tired, and prone to error.  The novel opens with Chavasse running a training course.  He is stalked by one of the Bureau’s top agents, and it goes less than well.  The opening paragraph acts, as opening paragraphs should, as a thematic harbinger.
“The moment he pushed open the door and paused on the edge of darkness, Chavasse knew that he had made a bad mistake.  Somewhere deep inside, a primitive instinct, that slightly mystical element common to all ancient races and inherited from his Breton ancestors, combined with the experience that came from ten hard years of working for the Bureau touched him coldly, sending a wave of greyness moving through him.”
It touches on Chavasse’s history, his Breton roots, his present—his broken psyche—and the mysticism ties his past and present to the future.  It is a brilliantly constructed opening paragraph.  It foreshadows the entire story in 70 words, which does not mean the novel is a serious study of mysticism, human frailty, or anything else of the kind, because it’s not.  Rather it is a straight up, straight forward, linearly plotted mid-1960s suspense novel.  It is entirely plot driven.  It is adventure in its purest form:  the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and everything else exits to serve the story.

Midnight Never Comes is really two novels masquerading as one.  The first several chapters deal in the rehabilitation of Chavasse from broken super hero, with the help of an obese Chinese master of ch’i—a martial art that focuses on the mental and spiritual power over the physical power—named Yuan Tao.  The novel then shifts gears when Chavasse is approached by The Bureau and offered a mission to the Hebrides Coast of Scotland where a Soviet scheme to steal a newly developed British missile is unfolding with alarming speed.

The setting is reminiscent of Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll.  The main action of the novel is on the Western coast of Scotland.  It is harsh, and gray with a very sparse population.  The climax of the novel shifts to a fictitious island in the Outer Hebrides called Fhada, which interestingly, means island in Gaelic.

Midnight Never Comes is a cool little thriller.  Chavasse is, as usual, smooth, competent and tough as nails.  The bad guys are exactly what the thriller gods meant them to be—hard, destructive, remorseless, and single minded in their mission.  The setting is stark and exotic.  And there is just enough humor laced throughout to keep the outlandish plot firmly in cheek.  The best moment is when a street tough albino, who is pretty good with his heavy boots, makes an appearance in the opening chapters.

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