JACK HIGGINS – The Killing Ground. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, January 2008. Berkley, deluxe paperback, November 2008.

JACK HIGGINS The Killing Ground

   Jack Higgins was born in 1929, which means he was 79 when this book was published in the US – and unfortunately, it reads like it. The basic story telling ability is still there, but this particular episode in the continuing adventures of Sean Dillon, former IRA operative, and Billy Salter, former East Ender gangster, now both working for British Intelligence, reads like a first or second draft, no more than semi-polished.

   There are no typos, but Higgins’ bare bones style, including the dialogue, is even more bare than usual, and except for the primary villain, there is no depth to any of the characters, none at all.

   The dialogue is curiously cliched and flat, and worse, with bad paragraphing and often no clues, there are times when it is impossible to know who is talking. People who are in a room in one scene somehow seem to disappear, only to be found mysteriously somewhere else one or two paragraphs later.

   Kidnapped is the young daughter of a well-to-do Iraqi couple, taken back to that country and her grandfather while the disastrous aftermath of the Iragi War is still going on, her hand promised in marriage to a cousin who not so incidentally is a notorious terrorist generally known as the Hammer of God.

   There are some subplots here and there, but none of any consequence. The action goes back and forth, but the good guys are just plain too good at their job, and the bad guys are totally inept. Too bad the real world doesn’t work that way. (One does get tired very quickly of every bad guy being shot squarely between the eyes, at least ten of then, every single one of them, but perhaps I lost track after a while.)

   Some complications do arise, mostly foolish stuff such as the girl’s mother, a noted surgeon, using a cell phone to contact her hospital while she and her family are supposed to be in hiding. And of course the opposition is listening in, for all of the good it does them.

   One would like to think that the grand finale would be worth wading through this morass of unenergetic plotting, 415 pages worth, but one would be wrong, alas. The bad guys lose again, and I’m glad that they did, but – and I hate to say this – so what?