Saturday, December 13, 2014

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins)

The Graveyard Shift is the fifteenth novel published by Harry Patterson. It was released as a hardcover by John Long in 1965. It is the first of three novels featuring University of London graduate, Mini-Cooper driving, all around sharp guy—if a little coarse and hard—Detective Sergeant Nick Miller.

Ben Garvald, an independent street thug, is released from England’s Wandsworth Prison—in Southwest London—after nine years of a ten year tab. Garvald and two partners robbed a Birmingham steel plant of a $15,000 payroll. In the ensuing chase one of the crooks was killed, one captured—Garvald—and one walked away clean. Now, Garvald his headed back home and he is definitely not wanted. Three street toughs are hired to discourage him, and his ex-wife’s sister asks CID to have a word with him.

Enter Detective Sergeant Nick Miller. An educated copper with money, drives his own Mini-Cooper on the job, an expert in karate and judo, and has a style all his own. He wears a stylish cap called “Schildtmutze”—no idea what it is, but the hipsters all seem to like it. Miller is tasked with finding Garvald, and warning him off, but, as expected the set up isn’t exactly what it seems and the only sure thing? Ben Garvald is at the center of everything.

The Graveyard Shift is a little different (but also the same) from Mr Patterson’s usual. The prose, and the protagonist are hardboiled. It is a straight 1960’s crime novel, but the plotting is old school Harry Patterson—linear, clean and a study of complex simplicity. There is the main storyline—propelled by Garvald as antagonist—and several supporting subplots including an attempted murder of a police constable.

There is also a relatively large cast of characters. The most interesting is an American jazz pianist, hero of the big war, and heroin addict named Chuck Lazer. Lazer is something of a forerunner for Mr Patterson’s Liam Devlin—disillusioned, wisecracking (and even a little wise) Irish rogue from The Eagle Has Landed. The difference. Lazer is more than just disillusioned. He is also a drug addict, which is described depressingly well—

“On top of a small bedside locker were littered the gear that told the story. A hypodermic with several needles, most of them dirty and blunted. Heroin and cocaine bottles, both empty, a cup still half-full of water, a small glass bottle, its base discolored from the match flame and a litter of burned-out matches.”

Unfortunately Nick Miller is less than compelling. He comes across as coarse and even (a little) mean; not to mention a little too cool. That isn’t to say The Graveyard Shift is a bad novel, but rather it would have been significantly more successful if the protagonist was more likable. It is a well-paced, interesting, and entertaining crime novel. It is very definitely of its era—it has a glossy-gritty 1960’s feel—drugs, hip, and distrust. There is betrayal, murder, and enough of the unknown to keep the reader turning pages. 


Bill Crider said...

Not one of my favorites, but a good example of Higgins working toward that great "middle period" of his books.

Ben Boulden said...

Bill, You make a good point about this being something of a transition novel between Mr Patterson's earliest novels (plot, plot and plot) and his prime novels in the late-1960s through the 1970s where he was able to develop more than just the plot (although there was still at least plot and plot).

I think, in GRAVEYARD SHIFT, he struggled with Nick Miller's character a little--mixing the flashy self-assured and educated with the hardboiled and coarse detective. It didn't quite make it.

I tended to enjoy the Ben Garvald and Chuck Lazer characters more than Nick Miller. Ben Garvald was an old school Patterson character--the same prototype is in nearly all of his early novels--and, as I mentioned in the review, Lazer is a foreshadowing of where his characters were going. Albeit still in a simplistic form.

Thanks for the comment. You made me think a little harder about the novel.


Bill Crider said...

I had the same problem with Miller that you did. He didn't quite work and wasn't very likable.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, I haven't read this novel. As I read through your review I thought it sounded different from the usual Patterson fare and then I saw that you'd made the same observation. He can spin a different yarn every now and then though it has his trademark style all over it. THE IRON TIGER (1966), which I read not long ago, was unusual. It had an ex-naval pilot as a hero and was set on the India-China border.

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. One of the things I like about the early Harry Patterson novels is seeing his growth and experiments. He was always able to write an entertaining novel, but his work improved so much over the first 10 or so years of his career.

THE IRON TIGER is actually next on my Jack Higgins list. I read it as a teenager, but I don't remember much about it. I'm looking forward to reading it.