Tuesday, April 08, 2014

THE DARK SIDE OF THE ISLAND by Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins)

The Dark Side of the Island is the eighth novel published by Harry Patterson.  It was released as a hardcover by John Long in 1964, and it is the first novel, of many, Mr Patterson set (at least partly) during World War 2.

Hugh Lomax is a working screenwriter, and recent widower.  He is English, but makes his home in California.  As the novel opens Lomax is steaming to the small Greek Island of Kyros.  He was briefly on Kyros seventeen years earlier with British Intelligence to destroy a high tech radar installation.  He is returning for an elusive reason; something unfinished, nostalgia, or simply to see the island in the warmth of peacetime.

Unfortunately his welcome is less than cordial.  A man he considers an old friend threatens to kill him, another actually tries to kill him, and the local constabulary politely asks him to leave.  The locals blame Lomax for snitching out the islanders who helped him to the Germans and nearly all of them hold a grudge.  For good reason.  Nearly everyone was sent to a concentration camp at Fonchi, and more than 20 never returned.

The Dark Side of the Island is told in three acts.  The first and third are set in the early 1960s, and the middle is set during World War 2.  Lomax is lost in the mystery of who talked to the Germans, and why.  He knows it wasn’t him, but no one on the island seemingly had a motive—or anything to gain—from the betrayal. 

Lomax is a classic Jack Higgins’ protagonist; brilliant, principled, and something less (at least in the world’s eyes) than he could be.  The storyline is familiar to Mr Patterson’s regular readers, but the foray into the past is something rare.  It isn’t perfectly executed.  There is some confusion on character names.  There are two with the name “Yanni”; one a young boy in the modern sections and another a shepherd during World War 2.  The plot is relatively complicated and it would benefit from more flesh (i. e. development), but like all of Mr Patterson’s novels it is sleek, fast, and entertaining.

There is an interesting piece of dialogue, which will likely resound with most writers.  When Lomax tells an English writer, who lives on Kyros, one of his men borrowed a book of poetry from his bookshelf, the writer says—

“You know, Lomax, for some strange reason, most people seem to think writers ought to distribute their books free.”

An element that separates Mr Patterson’s work—particularly his early novels—from most of its competitors is the small and accurate detail.  In the opening pages Lomax discusses his work with the E.O.K. in Crete during the war; a right of center partisan group organized by British Intelligence to act as a competitor to the communist underground.  

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