Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CRY OF THE HUNTER by Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins)

Cry of the Hunter is the second novel published by Harry Patterson.  It was released as a hardcover by John Long in 1960.  It is an interesting novel for a few reasons.  It is the first of Patterson’s novels to feature the Irish Republican Army, which is referred to as the Organization throughout, and the protagonist is familiar to the regular reader of Patterson’s work—Martin Fallon.  Mr Patterson used the Fallon moniker as a nom de plume for six of his early thrillers, and Martin Fallon, although a different Fallon, appeared in the 1973 novel A Prayer for the Dying.    

Martin Fallon is a legend in the Organization.  He joined the IRA at 17, and was the leader of the Ulster Organization at 22, and served nine years at the Dartmoor Prison before escaping to Ireland where he lives in the rural County Cavan.  Fallon earns a living writing nondescript thrillers, drinks too much, and is generally hiding from the world.  His comfortable, if not satisfying, life is interrupted when an old associate seeks him out with a special job. 

Patrick Rogan, leader of the Ulster Organization, has been arrested and he has sent out an ultimatum.  If he isn’t busted out before he reaches Belfast he will spill everything he knows about the Organization in exchange for a reduced sentence.  Rogan is not well liked, but he knows enough to set the IRA back years.  Fallon isn’t keen on getting back into the game, but he allows himself to be manipulated, and soon he is back in Northern Ireland on a mission to rescue Rogan.
Cry of the Hunter is the footprint for many of Mr Patterson’s later novels featuring Irish anti-heroes.  The protagonist is a man fallen far below his station; in this case Martin Fallon is a product of Queen’s University, and in the words of his favorite professor—“a fine man ruined and a good mind wasted.”  He is as much a man of ideas as he is of action.  He is an idealist who knows his actions are less than ideal, and the dialogue is that of the standard Harry Patterson Irish rogue—think Liam Devlin, and Sean Dillon.

The action doesn’t play out exactly as expected—the tension of the story is between Martin Fallon and Patrick Rogan rather than Martin Fallon and the Constabulary.  It is plotted with Mr Patterson’s deft hand, and the character of Martin Fallon is developed beyond just a simple cut out.  Fallon is a romantic who is afraid he has lost his nerve, and he also fears the Organization’s momentum.  The good men are being replaced by sociopathic hoods, which is exactly what Rogan is.
The prose is sharp, stark, seemingly simple, and at places almost lyrical—

“It was a fine morning with a clear sky and the sun was beginning to lift above the horizon.  He drove in silence for half an hour and then the girl spoke.”
Cry of the Hunter is plainly one of Harry Patterson’s first novels—it suffers from a naïve exuberance of ideas and mood—but it is a good example of a quick, exciting, and entertaining thriller.  The action scenes are well written—

“Fallon moved so quickly that Doolan didn’t stand a chance.  A fist caught him high on the right cheek and he stumbled, tripped over a loose rug and fell heavily to the floor.” 
And the mood is something shifting between brooding despondence—it rains for more than half of the novel—and naïve hope, but it does so with the slightest touch of humor—

“He started to walk faster.  It wouldn’t do to collapse in the street.  That would be stupid.”
—and a bushel of romantic ideas.  There are also a few terrific terms I wasn’t familiar with.  One example is referring to the police as “peelers,” which is a slang term derived from Sir Robert Peel’s surname; the founder of the Irish Constabulary.

Cry of the Hunter is worth reading on its own merits, but it is even more interesting (and possibly entertaining) as a study of Harry Patterson’s craft, and just how far it advanced from this novel to its younger siblings with similar plot structures (i. e. A Prayer for the Dying, and The Savage Day).

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