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29 June 2012

Jack Higgins: The Eagle has Landed

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Golden Oldie - Top WWII thriller
I have recently read a few top ranked novels written in the 1970's and 1980's and enjoyed them all - this is one of the best. It was first published in 1975 and sold 50 million copies across the world. It was also a successful movie, starring Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, and Robert Duval and achieved a bit of a cult following.

Normally WWII stories are mostly about the Allies - but this one centres on the Germans at a time when it is clear to most that they are losing the war. It also focusses on how a small quiet remote English community reacts when the war is unexpectedly brought to their doorstep.

During one of his temper tantrum brainstorms, Hitler challenges Admiral Canaris (his espionage chief) to capture Winston Churchill. While Canaris tries to forget the challenge, he asks one of his staff to plan a commando raid when he finds that Churchill will be spending a weekend in remote part of Norfolk, very near the coast. Heirich Himmler never forgets and takes over the planning in his normal ruthless and chilling way.

The raiding group is led by a charismatic Lt. Col. Kurt Steiner, the son of a German general and his American wife, and a small group of war hardened but disgraced paratroopers. They are helped by a key IRA operative Liam Devlin and long term local resident but undercover Abwehr agent Joanna Grey.

While the raid starts according to plan it rapidly goes downhill - surprisingly partly because of the humanity of a German soldier who saves a local child from drowning. The normally heartless Devlin is vulnerable when he loses his heart to a local teenager.

Some say that this is Jack Higgins' best book and is in the same league as the classic Frederick Forsyth thriller "The Day of the Jackal". I agree with them.

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