Belfast-educated novelist Henry Patterson, whose 36th novel was the best-selling thriller The Eagle Has Landed, was a classic example of the writer who never gave up.
he writer, whose pen name was Jack Higgins, passed away at the age of 92 at his home in Jersey surrounded by family,
HarperCollins chief executive Charlie Redmayne said: “I’ve been a fan of Jack Higgins for longer than I can remember. He was a classic thriller writer: instinctive, tough, relentless.
“The Eagle Has Landed and his other Liam Devlin books, his later Sean Dillon series, and so many others were and remain absolutely ‘unputdownable’.
“Being part of his publishing for even part of his career has been a privilege — his passing marks the end of an era.”
Award-winning Irish novelist Adrian McKinty paid tribute to Patterson saying: “He wrote 70+ novels selling 150m copies.
“He grew up on the Shankill Road, Belfast and didn’t have a real success until the publication of his 36th book The Eagle Has Landed.
“Classic case of never give up.”
Patterson was born on July 27, 1929 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, to an English father and a Northern Irish mother.
When his father abandoned them soon afterwards, his mother returned with him to Belfast to live with her mother and her grandfather on the Shankill Road.
Raised amid religious and political violence, Patterson learned to read at the age of three.
At night, he would crouch beneath a window and read by the light of street lamps. He once said: “I read Oliver Twist when I was six. Not because it was a classic, but because it was a book that was available.
“I probably didn’t understand everything in it — for years I used to pronounce the word rogue as rogger — but I didn’t care. I just loved reading.”
When his mother remarried, the family relocated to Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, where Patterson won a scholarship to attend Roundhay Grammar School for Boys.
He proved to be an indifferent student and left school with few formal qualifications.
After a two-year stint of national service, he qualified as a teacher and began to write novels in his spare time.
The writer received a £75 advance for his first novel, Sad Wind From the Sea, in 1959.
Patterson’s early novels, using his own name as well as the pseudonyms James Graham, Martin Fallon, and Hugh Marlowe, are thrillers that typically feature hardened, cynical heroes, ruthless villains, and dangerous locales.
He published 35 such novels — sometimes three or four a year — between 1959 and 1974, learning his craft.
Patterson began using the pseudonym Jack Higgins during the late 1960s; his first minor bestsellers were published during the early 1970s, two contemporary thrillers The Savage Day and A Prayer for the Dying.
But it was the publication of his 36th book, The Eagle Has Landed, in 1975, that made Higgins’ reputation.
Its plot concerns a German commando unit sent into England to kidnap Winston Churchill.
It sold more than 50 million copies and was adapted into a British film of the same name which starred Sir Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Jenny Agutter and Robert Duvall.
Jonathan Lloyd, Patterson’s literary agent and president of the Curtis Brown literary agency, said he was at Collins Publishers when it received the manuscript of The Eagle Has Landed, and everyone there knew it would become a classic.
The third phase of Patterson’s career began with the publication of Eye of the Storm in 1992.
Patterson sold more than 250 million copies worldwide and his books were translated into 60 languages. He wrote 85 novels, predominantly thrillers and in the espionage genre.
His final book, The Midnight Bell, was published in 2017 and was a Sunday Times bestseller.
The novelist is survived by his four children from his first marriage — Sarah, Ruth, Sean and Hannah — and by his wife, Denise.