Without Mercy
Jack Higgins
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Without Mercy

Jack Higgins
320 pages
August 2005
rated 2 of 5 possible stars
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In an earlier novel, one of Jack Higgins’ characters remarks that he is able to live comfortably because his books sell well in airport book stores. The message of that statement appears to be that travelers are looking for fast-paced adventure novels that don’t bother with in-depth character examination, nuanced storylines, and plausible incidents. Higgins wrote that line with more than a hint of cynicism. Alas, he seems to have taken that same route in his current book. It is almost as though he feels compelled to write books that feature his arguably most famous character, Sean Dillon, even when the storyline seems jaded and the hero is reduced to a caricature. In Hollywood, they call this kind of performance, “mailing it in!”

The cast of characters is familiar to Higgins fans. Sean Dillon is at his enigmatic best, the motivations for his actions chronicled at length in earlier books. A former IRA henchman, Dillon goes to the other side, Charles Ferguson’s crack team of enforcers charged with the task of guarding Britain from external threats. The romantic interest and moral center is Hannah Bernstein, whose “is she or isn’t she in love with Dillon” subtext has been used to tease readers in several earlier books. When Dillon kills Josef Belov, the billionaire head of Belov International, Russia in general and Vladimir Putin in particular are thrown in disarray.

Putin’s plans for controlling the world’s oil through Belov need to be changed. When Bernstein is killed, Dillon’s full fury is unleashed on the hapless Russians. Ferguson’s band unearths a sinister plot by the Russians to use a lookalike to impersonate Belov so that an international accord can be signed that allows the Russians to control a large supply of oil. Dillon and his cohorts race against time to thwart the plot. In a series of set pieces that once had been Higgins’ hallmark as a writer of convincing thrillers, but now ludicrously unconvincing, Dillon singlehandedly saves the world.

It is a pity to see a fine writer of taut, edge-of-the-seat adventure novels reduced to writing books with predictable sequences, cardboard characters (who seem to consume large quantities of alcohol and yet function quite normally!) and hackneyed themes. Higgins’ earlier books were finely paced and intricately plotted. Not so his current effort. The death of Hannah Bernstein (surely a pivotal point in the chronicles of Sean Dillon) could have been used to more telling effect than to merely explain why Dillon goes on yet another daredevil venture to save himself and the world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Ram Subramanian, 2005

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