Friday, July 17, 2015

DARK SIDE OF THE STREET by Martin Fallon (Jack Higgins)

Dark Side of the Street is the twenty-first novel published by Harry Patterson, and the fifth to feature Paul Chavasse. It was originally released in the U. K. as a hardcover by John Long in 1967 under the byline “Martin Fallon”; a name that has a history with Mr. Patterson. It was an early pseudonym, and the name of two protagonists who met similar fates in the novels Cry of the Hunter (1960) and A Prayer for the Dying (1973). It made a pre-The Eagle Has Landed appearance in the United States as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback in 1974.

Paul Chavasse is employed by a British intelligence organization called “The Bureau”; its director reports directly to the Prime Minister. Chavasse is educated—a former lecturer of linguistics—ruthless, and very much in demand. When he is approached by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch with an opportunity to spend time in a maximum security prison Chavasse accepts with good humor. His assignment is to infiltrate a criminal organization that seemingly has the ability to penetrate any prison, and abscond with the convict of its choosing. And once out, the prisoner vanishes without a trace.

Special Branch believes the next convict to escape will be Harry Youngblood. Harry was convicted of robbing an airport with two associates, and both have already escaped in spectacular fashion. Chavasse’s assignment is to tag along with Youngblood when his escape comes, and get the details of the organization arranging it. He does, and what he finds is both surprising and daunting.

Dark Side of the Street is one of the more accomplished Paul Chavasse novels. The plot is perfectly executed and surprising. The prose is even and consistent, and at times vividly eloquent—

“Rain drifted against the window with dismal pattering and Chavasse looked out across the farmyard morosely. In the grey light of early morning, it presented an unlovely picture. Great potholes in the cobbles filled with stagnant water, archaic, rusting machinery and a profusion of rubbish everywhere.”

There is a nicely executed heist in the opening pages before it settles into straight adventure. Paul Chavasse is a likable protagonist with a knack for finding himself behind bars, and an uncanny ability of getting out. A situation that happens at least once in the first five novels. The central antagonist is interesting for two reasons. The first is Mr. Patterson’s use of an obvious sociopath with an over the top personality (Sean Rogan less the conscience). The second is his name, Simon Vaughan. A name many readers will recognize as the protagonist from The Savage Day (1972), and Day of Judgment (1979); although it is definitely not the same character.      

The plot is also familiar, but the familiarity is external to Mr. Patterson’s work rather than internal. Desmond Bagley used a similar storyline for his excellent 1971 novel The Freedom Trap, filmed as “The Mackintosh Man”, which was inspired by the 1966 escape of British double agent George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs prison. It is likely, due to the proximity between Blake’s escape and the publication date, it also inspired Dark Side of the Street.  

No matter its inspirations, Dark Side of the Street, is one of the better early novels Harry Patterson published. It is the last novel Mr. Patterson wrote before introducing his most famous nom de plume—Jack Higgins—and it is a bridge between his early work and the brilliant novels he wrote in the middle of his career.   

I wrote a short introduction to the Paul Chavasse novels a few years ago you may find interesting.


Unknown said...

I recently reread A PRAYER FOR THE DYING, with Martin Fallon as the protagonist. It's a book I really like.

Ben Boulden said...

A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is probably my favorite Jack Higgins novel (with THE SAVAGE DAY running a very close second). The film version, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Mickey Rourke as Martin Fallon, was pretty great, too.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, the only two Paul Chavasse novels I have read are THE KEYS OF HELL and A FINE NIGHT FOR DYING, and I enjoyed both. I have read most of Harry Patterson's novels as "Jack Higgins" because that's what I found in Indian bookstores, old and new.

I liked A PRAYER FOR THE DYING too. I thought the film was less intense than the novel in spite of a fine performance by Mickey Rourke as Martin Fallon.

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. The first, as I remember this morning, Paul Chavasse novel I read was THE KEYS OF HELL. I was somewhere in middle teens, and I loved it. I thought Chavasse was the coolest character ever created, and since then I have had a fondness for the Paul Chavasse novels.

The film version's ending for a A PRAYER FOR THE DYING was crazy, but otherwise I really liked it. I think it has been the most successful adaptation of a Higgins' novel, but there really haven't been many good ones.