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What do you get if you put an Actress, a MP and a Professor together in a room? Nothing like that I thank you very much! According to Jack Higgins the correct answer is an international assassination group! Higgins is one of the last old fashioned action writers. For over 40 years he has been writing boy's own adventures for men. Who doesn't like a lot of blokes shouting at one another and firing guns? However, even the best authors can grow stale over such a long period and Higgins was never the best of authors. In recent years he has concentrated on a series of novels based around ex-IRA enforcer Sean Dillon and his work for the crown. With the 17th book in the series released this year the format is well worn, but what about when it began? Written in 1995 'Angel of Death' is one of the earliest Dillon adventures - does it stand out from the crowd?
There seems to be little connection between the deaths of a KGB man, an Arab terrorist and some IRA enforcers, but use of the same weapon in all the deaths suggests otherwise. A group calling themselves January 30 are targeting people from every side over many different conflicts for no apparent reason. When this group passes Sean Dillon and Brigadier Ferguson's path they suddenly become wanted. Will Dillon be able to uncover who the members of January 30 are before they destroy the Irish Peace Process? Who could have imagined that a group of killers could be so bourgeoisie?
I am a huge fan of Higgins' earlier books as he grew from an unknown pulp writer into one of Britain's best loved authors of action thrillers. To be honest Higgins has never lost his cheesy pulp status in my eyes as he is far too prolific and the books prove too samey. Back in the day he wrote some excellent action books all about the Second World War and then into the cold war. There were stories about kidnapping Generals or flying down the Amazon River. These were never books that were written to trigger the intellect, but the imagination. Therefore, it saddens me that his work has dropped in quality so much in the past 10 years. As he has grown older he seems to be producing the exact same book to the point where I have to check that I am not re-reading one. This repetitive nature is no more pronounced than in the Sean Dillon books were almost the exact same thing happens in each one. Unfortunately, this is the same again in 'Angel of Death', but at least it was one of the earliest examples and was copied from, rather than a copy.
With Higgins' style being so familiar fan will know before reading what to expect. They will get the usual enjoyable romp, whilst new readers may find the style peculiarly old fashioned. Higgins' style feels like it was developed post war as men are men and women are patronised. All the bad guys are actually good chaps just happening to be on the wrong side and the book ties up spiffingly towards the end. Like nearly every Higgins novel since the mid 90s it essentially follows the pattern of shoot out, drink, patronise a woman, drink, patronise another woman, shoot out.
You may be thinking that this is an all together bad thing! I know what to expect from the author so was prepared for cheesy action and empty headed fun. In these terms I was not disappointed. Higgins has a great habit of creating ridiculously romantic enemies and in this case they are amongst his best creations. Dillon is his usual roguish self and you cannot help be charmed by his old fashioned ways. Dillon's is a world where people do not bare a grudge for his IRA days because he happens to be a bit charismatic. In terms of action the book has a great little set piece at the end that is straight from the Higgins drawer of the ludicrous.
'Angel of Death' is by no means a masterpiece and is instead in many ways pretty awful! The same plot lines, characters and situations reoccur as in countless Higgins books. However, it is these repetitive things that make Higgins so reassuring to read. They say never judge a book by its cover, but if the book has the name Jack Higgins on the front you pretty much know what you are going to get. For the two days that it took me to read this book I enjoyed the simple action and the well worn characters. Fans of Higgins will be happy with another Dillon entry, but I urge new readers to read something pre 1980 from when Higgins was a true master and not the shadow he has become.
Author: Jack Higgins
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