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.