Saturday, February 14, 2015

THE IRON TIGER by Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins)

The Iron Tiger is the seventeenth novel published by Harry Patterson. It was originally released in the U. K. as a hardcover by John Long in 1966, and it made a pre-The Eagle Has Landed appearance in the United States in October 1974 as a paperback original from Fawcett Gold Medal—the jacket copy reads: “by the author of The Savage Day.” I mention this because I love finding the early U. S. paperback originals.

Jack Drummond is a cynical and somewhat worn out bush pilot making a living flying guns into Tibet. He, like many of Mr Patterson’s characters, is a soft-hearted rogue and something more than he seems. He was drummed out of the Royal Navy Air Fleet during the Korean War for an incident deemed negligent friendly fire, and now works as a mercenary for (so he says) anyone paying the tab.

When he is approached by a beautiful American nurse—returning to the U. S. from two years in Vietnam—to fly a boy who needs eye surgery out of the India-China border country of Balpur he accepts quickly. Unfortunately it doesn’t turn out well for Jack. His plane is a smoldering wreck on the runway of the tiny Balpur airport. A storm—first rain and then snow—raging across the high border country as he escorts, by truck, foot, and horse, an ill boy, a nurse, and an aging priest across the mountainous landscape of Balpur to the Indian border. The Red Chinese army rushing his wake.

The Iron Tiger is both familiar and new, and successful and flawed. It is familiar in that it has the rugged sparse language and plot of Mr Patterson’s best work. It is something of a hybrid between The Year of the Tiger (1964) and The Last Place God Made (1971); although not nearly as good as the later. It also has an echo of Alistair MacLean—the setting, particularly the harsh landscape and weather, and treachery from an unexpected source. The new is the description, especially in the early pages, of India. A particularly nice scene is that of a family giving the ashes of a young child to the Ganges River—

“They stood on the edge of a small crowd and watched the ceremony that was taking place. Several people stood knee-deep in the water, the men amongst them stripped to the waist and daubed in mud. One of them poured ashes from a muslin bag into a larger paper boat. Another put a match to it and pushed the frail craft away from the bank, out into the channel where the current caught it.”

The adventure is pure bliss, but the plot could have been developed more and—this isn’t something I say often—the novel a little longer. The climax was cut short of what it could have been by the brevity of the story. The cavalry was required to save the day (rather than the Drummond and company pulling at off on their own). This isn’t one of my favorite novels by Harry Patterson, but it is entertaining, and fun.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, I read this novel a couple of years ago and liked it. I thought the plot was as unusual as that of LAST PLACE GOD MADE. I agree, it wasn't the strong point of this novel but the setting and the characters were, in my opinion, and yes, I found it entertaining too. I think Patterson liked to experiment in his early novels.

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. I agree. I really enjoyed the setting, characters, and description. The description of India--especially in the early pages--was fantastic. I don't know if Mr Patterson had been to India when he wrote it, but it felt like he was describing something he had seen and experienced.

It is fun to see his growth as an author and try new things. You can see his writing pushing towards those great early-1970s (and beyond) masterpieces--THE SAVAGE DAY, A PRAYER FOR THE DYING, TOLL FOR THE BRAVE, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, etc.

He really is the master of the adventure novel. Bar none.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, I don't know if Patterson visited India but his description of the landscape along the India-China border could have come from anywhere; for instance, from people who had been there or from travel literature.

I have read and enjoyed all the four novels you mention though I'll always wonder why he has given Liam Devlin a limited role in his vast number of books.

Among his post-1980 novels, I liked NIGHT OF THE FOX, a romantic but gripping tale of WWII set in France. George Peppard played the lead in the 1990 film version.

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. I've always wondered why Devlin wasn't more of a recurring character, too, because when I think of the Jack Higgins novels my first thought is of Liam Devlin, but (I think) he only appeared on 3 or 4 titles.

I also enjoyed NIGHT OF THE FOX. I actually saw the film version before I read the novel--I was in High School at the time--and I thought then that George Peppard did a great job with depiction of Harry Martineau. In my memory I watched the film on television and rushed out an found the novel. A good memory.