Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Night of the Fox: Review

Night of the Fox (1986) is the second World War II thriller I've read by Jack Higgins. It's just before D-Day and the Allies having been running training simulations in Lyme Bay at Devon. American boats mistake signal lights for British convoys and are attacked by the German E-boats. Nearly 650 American servicemen are lost--among them are three men who have all the details of D-Day in their heads. As the bodies are recovered, the ranking officers hope that all three men are among them. Two are found, but a third, Colonel Hugh Kelso is still missing. 

Badly wounded, he manages to scramble aboard a life raft and drifts until he lands on the German-occupied island of Jersey. Luckily, he is found by Helen de Ville and, with the help of "General" Sean Martin Gallagher--a Dublin veteran of the Irish wars, she manages to hide him and provide medical attention. But will they be able to keep him from the Nazi occupiers? Sean manages to send word to London via a French resistance group and the Allies face the fact that Kelso must be rescued or silenced.

A plan is formed and it will require their best--Harry Martineau, a British scholar who is fluent in German and particularly skilled in impersonating Nazi officers. He's done it before--and the Germans know it (much to their chagrin). He's got a flair for reckless courage, but it may be that he will trust his skills once too often. By his side is Sarah Drayton. She is an innocent nineteen-year-old who tried to sign up for the secret service once but was turned down. But this time they need her. She's a Jersey Island native who knows the terrain and can provide Harry with the bona fides to gain Helen and Sean's confidence. She'll need every bit of acting skill she's got to keep up her role as Standartenfuhrer Vogel's (Martineau's) French mistress. 

World War II thrillers are not often my thing--but Jack Higgins sure knows how to write them. Having read The Eagle Has Landed (I've always enjoyed the movie made from it) a couple years ago, I picked this one up last year. It was another absorbing read.  He has a particular flair for the WWII time period and in both books he has created fully-fledged characters that the reader cares about. All of the central characters get a full treatment with distinct personalities. With so many characters (there's a whole sub-plot with Rommel and another impersonator), it would be easy to lose track with less well-defined personalities. 

Martineau is a particularly complex character. He is a brilliant scholar who has seen a bit too much in this war. He's lost his love (Rosa) to the Nazis and now he likes to see himself as a man of action willing to kill as many Nazis as possible. But he's lost his purpose just a bit. Not too long before the events in this book he was able to exact revenge on the man he held responsible for Rosa's death. It was satisfying at the time....but it's lost its savor. He now seems like a cold, hard man...and yet he can show compassion to Sarah when she breaks down one night. The other characters are only slightly less complex. 

I've seen a few reviews that say Higgins gets a bit formulaic in his extensive output and I can see how that's probable. [He uses very similar framing devices for both this and The Eagle Has Landed.] But at this point, the stories are so interesting and well-told that they are very enjoyable for this reader.

The blurb on my copy says it was based on real events, but I haven't been able to find any specifics. Not sure if it just means the plot to kill Hitler and the German occupation of the island of Jersey (which were definitely real things)--or if there was an incident with a downed officer near Jersey. I'd be interested in any details on what Higgins was drawing from. ★★★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Book Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner, Historical Reading Challenge, 52 in 52 Weeks, Reporter's Challenge
January = pub month
Deaths = 2 shot; 1 stabbed; 1 downed in plane over the English Channel (drowned?)


The Book Sage said...

It's been a lot of years since I have read a Higgins. I think I read a few back in the day. But I don't know if I read this one. I do know that he's a very good author. I don't remember why I stopped reading him. It was probably nothing more than just moving on to other authors and genres.

Bev Hankins said...

Yeah--there have been a lot of authors/series that I just wandered away from because my attention was grabbed by something else and I didn't make my way back to them.