Jack Higgins, aka Harry Patterson

March 9, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, writers, writing.

When The Eagle Has Landed was published in 1975, it was an immediate and huge hit for its author Harry Patterson, who was writing under the pen name of Jack Higgins.

The fast-paced and gripping narrative captured the imagination of readers and the attention of filmmakers, who quickly purchased the movie rights and almost as quickly produced a film starring Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Donald Sutherland. The movie, of course, spurred sales of the book and for decades thereafter, Higgins’ name was rarely absent from the bestsellers lists.

The Eagle Has Landed has been described as a break-through novel for Patterson, and it was certainly that — but that descriptor is somewhat misleading.

In 1975, Patterson was no novice to the writing game. In fact, The Eagle Has Landed was his 35th novel. Some of his novels had sold very well, and two of them — A Candle for the Enemy and The Wrath of God — had already been made into movies. (The movie title for the former was The Violent Enemy.)

Patterson was born in 1929 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, but his mother moved the family back to her native Belfast, Northern Ireland, when the father abandoned the family. In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, he said:

“We were very poor and there was great tension between the Catholics and the Protestants . . . . As a Protestant, I’d get beaten up by Catholics, and there was one occasion when shots were fired at the tram we were travelling in and my mother pushed me on to the floor and lay on top of me. On another, a Catholic priest patted me on the head and said: ‘Poor wee boy; his black Orange soul will go straight to hell.’ Strangely, though, these experiences made me less rather more than sectarian. I came to see both religions as both morally compromised and oppressed, and have written that ambiguity into two of my main characters [Liam Devlin and Sean Dillon, who have appeared in 17 novels]. Many Catholics even assume I must be Catholic from the way I write.” Source: A life in writing: Jack Higgins | Books | The Guardian

After two years in the Army, Patterson attended the London School of Economics and eventually achieved his teaching certificate. He took a position lecturing at Leeds Polytechnic and in 1959, at the age of 30, he began writing novels. He has been at it ever since.

His first novel, A Sad Wind from the Sea, sold well enough, but his publishers told him not to write more than one novel a year because that’s all that readers would want. So Patterson began using pen names and could produce two or three in a year. They were all in the thriller genre with exciting plots and tough heroes.

Patterson now lives on the island of Jersey. He has passed his 90th birthday, and his last novel, The Midnight Bell, was published in 2016.

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