Friday, 25 January 2013

The Eagle has Landed by Jack Higgins – Book Review

(Yes, my skills in photography are quite awful)

Author’s note:

‘At Precisely one o'clock on the morning of Saturday 6 November 1943, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer of the SS and Chief of State Police, received a simple message. The Eagle has landed. It meant that a small force of German paratroopers were at that moment safely in England and poised to snatch the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, from the Norfolk county house near the sea, where he was spending a quiet weekend. This Book is an attempt to recreate the events surrounding that astonishing exploit.

At least fifty per cent of it is documented historical fact. The reader must decide for himself how much of the rest is a matter of speculation, or fiction...’

‘Now the field of battle is a land of standing corpses; those determined to die will live; those who hope to escape with their lives will die.’ – Wu Ch’i

The Eagle has Landed is a World War II novel written by the British author Jack Higgins. It is the first book featuring Liam Devlin, a recurring character in Higgins’ subsequent novels. A book with total sales of over 50 million is more than sufficient to get anyone interested and my historical fiction being my favourite genre, I became desperate to get my hands on the book. The prologue contains a false document with Jack Higgins visiting a remote village in Norfolk in search of the grave of a certain Charles Gascoigne but ends up finding something far more interesting than what he had come for.  The story is loosely based on the tentative Nazi plan of kidnapping Winston Churchill, as stated by the author himself.

The story begins with the Germans celebrating Otto Skorenzy’s success in bringing Mussolini back. This gets Hitler rather enthusiastic and starts contemplating over a possibility of replicating Otto Skorenzy’s success in abducting Winston Churchill. Hitler delegates the task to Admiral Canaris, the head of Abwehr who is sceptical about the whole thing – orders one of his subordinates, Max Radl, to conduct a feasibility study, to create a record that they did take some effort.

Little did Radl realise that the operation is more than possible, which gets the Reichsfuhrer serious about the whole thing, and decides to keep Canaris in the dark. Churchill was supposed to visit a remote village in Norfolk, where the Germans had an agent who had kept them fully informed. Colonel Kurt Steiner is set to head the mission, who himself doesn’t have a very good past. He is a really loveable character, a person with a strong sense of right and wrong, and in fact, he helped a Jew escape, which made him get into the bad books of his superiors. The reason why Steiner was chosen was for his background, half-American who grew up in London; which would easily enable him to pass through the streets of Norfolk as a native. To assist Steiner and his men, a former IRA man is summoned by the Germans, Liam Devlin, a dangerous man with a very shady past and the sarcasm he maintains throughout the book is quite amazing.

This book was rather different for me, personally, for a fact that I’ve read some World War II novels with protagonists from the Allies but I had not read a similar book with a German protagonist. The plot was amazing, with an interesting idea and extremely well narrated. For a change, I found some sort of significance in a romantic sub-plot between Devlin and a local girl in the Norfolk village, which certainly is a rarity. It also had a good contrast, Devlin and Steiner having totally different personalities, the former, a totally merciless person with no ethics whatsoever and the latter, a very honourable person and highly considerate towards his enemies. So far, especially the Alistair MacLean novels, the soldiers of the Axis powers were shown only as merciless killing machines; but Higgins portrayed the German soldiers in a completely different manner, portraying them as normal humans seems to be a privilege, thanks to the hate campaign from the winners of the war. I also developed a sympathy for Steiner – Higgins’ success for sure, that is, despite the highly despicable operation that he was carrying out, owing to the way in which he carried out his mission, I felt that he didn’t deserve to die, either in action or at the hands of his own men, for failing his mission, and I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has stumbled upon this thought.

But on the flipside, I found one, and that was highly significant, that is, the false document with which it began. Higgins found a grave, yes, but not of Charles Gascoigne but of Kurt Steiner and his thirteen men killed in action. This meant that whatever happens, the reader knows that they’re all eventually going to die, thereby, removing the essential element of a thriller, which is suspense, in the first few pages.

I had been searching for this book for a really long time. Two years, at least, I found every other book of Higgins except this one, and I even failed in an online order with the money eventually getting refunded. Finally, I found a very old edition in a library, after a really long wait and I’ve got to say this; it was certainly worth the wait! The only painful part of this whole experience was that I had to return the book. I’d conclude my review; I was in half a mind to award this a nine, but a thriller without an element of suspense is not something that could be ignored. That pulls my rating down to eight.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,


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