Finally, after eighteen other ratings this year, I am giving a novel a four-star rating! East of Desolation by Jack Higgins aka Henry Patterson (1929 – 2022) is my first four-star novel of the year. East of Desolation was first published in 1968 and I think is one of the author’s first novels – if not the first – to be released under his pen name “Jack Higgins.” Incidentally, after reading this novel, I have read a novel with this year with the words Abomination and Desolation in the titles.
East of Desolation is hands-down a four-star read. It is a very good example of what I look for when I read thriller/adventure pulp fiction. It is only 244 pages in the paperback that I read through, but it is so much better than the 400+ page thriller/adventure novels. I really like the spare writing without immense amounts of background for everything. I liked the unique, seldom-used setting. The story is set in Greenland and features the usage of small aircraft to travel around. I liked the way the characters were written, each of them felt lively and significant in their rôle. I liked that they were all daring and interesting and perfectly written for this sort of novel. They all had motives and some were rogues and most had shadowy pasts.
Frankly, this is the key point, it is a thriller novel with the correct tone, pacing, and tension. So, it definitely feels satisfying to pick up a thriller novel and to get to read a thriller novel. In other words, it was not sneaky agenda fiction, did not fall into some vague romance fiction, turn into a discourse on some obscurity, did not become a boring slog, and kept my interest for the full 244 pages. Further, and get this, the ending was very good. Imagine that – reading a good story from start to finish.
Of course this is not high-brow literature. However, it is quite a few levels up from some of the other novels that I have read this year. Somehow you can tell that the author knows what he is doing with pen and paper and is a little more intelligent than maybe some other authors. Its nothing I could point to with precision – but its an overall feeling; maybe stemming from word choice or method of description or something. I cannot give you an example, but it felt like a fresh, crisp breath of Greenland air instead of the smoggy mush I have read lately.
The novel dares the film industry to make it into a movie – maybe that is why it has not been so adapted, yet. I cannot imagine why, though. I mean, when I consider what the people I know watch on their screens, the comparison begs for this to be a summer flick. Which actor plays the main character, Joe Martin? Well, Joe is a pilot. He is a very independent fellow, but he has a lot of skeletons in his closet. He is a team player until he is not and he does not give warning when his loyalties shift. He is brave and prudent, for the most part, making friends easily. He has a surly temper on occasion, maybe saying harsh things that a softer person might not have said. The other characters tend to look past these moments as if they can see that he is a better person than he allows himself to be.
The plot is perfect for a thriller story. Excellent for a July summer read. The novel is filled out with liquor, crashed planes, gemstones, gunplay, bar fights, skiing and hunting, and sexy ladies. 1960s thriller fiction at its best. I recommend this for most readers, particularly those who are sick of over-written and overly-gruesome “thrillers” of the last few years.