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.