The familiar cast of characters is back in Higgins’ latest effort. An assassination attempt on the U.S. president uncovers a tangled web of conspiracy featuring disgruntled Russians and displaced Iraqis. The Russian contingent is led by an oil magnate who wants to corner the vast oilfields of Iraq. His modus operandi is to create havoc in the U.S.’s relations with Iraq and parlay the resulting confusion to his advantage. His key operative is a British-based Iraqi whose love for his native land often overcomes his apathy for violence.
The bulwark against these heinous plans is Higgins’ popular hero, Sean Dillon, the ex-IRA hitman turned mercenary-for-hire, now working for British intelligence. Readers of Higgins’ earlier books know Dillon intimately. His skills include a penchant for languages and an uncanny ability to use his dramatic talents to inhabit various disguises convincingly. These “soft” skills complement Dillon’s physical abilities and make him a one-man army. Dillon brings the same zeal he had as a mercenary to his job on the other side of justice. He works with Blake Johnson, in many ways his American counterpart, Brigadier Charles Ferguson, his boss, and Hannah Bernstein, who is both a keen crime fighter as well as the moral compass for the entire cast of characters. There is a running, low key, is-it-or-is-it-not love affair between Dillon and Bernstein that Higgins uses to tease his readers and attempts to make his characters more human and multi-dimensional. In a telling departure from his earlier Dillon books, Higgins involves Bernstein in an encounter that leaves her in serious danger and contemplating retirement from Ferguson’s employment.
The action unfolds dramatically in a series of pieces set in Washington, London and various parts of England, as well as a bizarre and often funny interlude in Baghdad featuring an out-of-control Saddam Hussein driving a bewildered duo of Russians through the city streets late at night. The incidents fit neatly together in Higgins’ narrative, the motives are clearly established and, while the reader has to constantly marvel at Dillon’s instincts and unmatched physical ability, Higgins ensures that credibility is not jeopardized.
Earlier Higgins classics such as The Eagle Has Landed and A Prayer For The Dying were intricately plotted novels that blended history with edge-of-the-seat adventure. While Sean Dillon is a multi-layered character with a history and a personality to stand the test of time, Higgins’ plotting and characterization in his recent novels, including the current one, seem perfunctory. It is almost as if he has uncovered a workable formula and a protagonist in Sean Dillon whose worldview is contemporary and akin to that of everyman, that periodically he produces a serviceable adventure featuring these elements. No doubt, it makes for interesting reading, but at the end of it all, it seems a waste of the huge talent that Higgins showed us in his earlier books. In one of his earlier books, a character downplays his success by remarking that he is rich because he wrote books that sold well in airports. Perhaps that is not too far from the truth in the case of Higgins as well.