If someone put a gun to my head and said I had to pick my favourite book, this would be it. Not my favourite by a long way, I admit it, I like too many books for that to be the case, but if I had to pick one, it would be this one. The ending is phenomenal, quite moving. I've read it half a dozen times now and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time.
Unlike most of the books I read, you could actually study this one. It's got themes and issues, there's a lot of context stuff in there. When the film of this book came out (never seen it), it got banned from a film festival because it was a bit too controversial. It's not the whole themes and issues bit that I really like about it though. It's the characters.
From Fallon, a bitter, cynical man who everyone wants because he was a terrorist for the IRA and who describes himself as 'a corpse walking', to the priest Father da Costa who joined the Catholic Church to get away from the violent side of himself, to the blind girl Anna, Jenny the prostitute who Fallon ends up staying with. And then on the other side of the coin, the undertaker and crime boss Jack Meehan, his younger brother who goes for anything in a skirt, Rupert, they're all created wonderfully, astonishingly realistic. You just don't know how to view Fallon. A cold blooded killer, true, but then he spares the life of Father da Costa who witnesses him murdering a man in exchange for a passport to get away from the country where everyone wants him. You can't help but feel sorry for him, despite the fact that he's a murderer and was a terrorist. He's one of the greatest characters I've ever read in terms of the contradictions in him and yet it all fits together so well. Father da Costa is developed brilliantly too. The little details about him, the way he isn't just your stereotypical priest. Nor is Jack Meehan your standard villain. The funeral business isn't just a legitimate front for him, he enjoys that part too.
The plot itself is great too. The ending is incredibly emotive. Fallon wants to get away from London. Meehan will let him have a passport and money. All he has to do is kill a business rival. But Fallon won't kill the priest who witnesses it. Instead, he goes to confession, admits what he's done to the priest, and the priest then has his hands tied. The secrets of confession cannot be given away. But Meehan is not impressed by the fact that the priest is still alive, determines otherwise. Fallon finds himself responsible for protecting the priest and his neice Anna.
There's action in it, sure, particularly the explosive (literally) last scene, but that doesn't take over the plot. It's not a pure thriller determined to give you the fastest paced read in the world like Matthew Reilly books. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I quite enjoy it, but this one really has good characters. And I mean really good.
I highly recommend it. By Jack Higgins, and well worth reading. I'm using it as my stimulus text for my English Lit coursework, although technically Ash was inspired by Sean Dillon in a series of books also by Jack Higgins. I can see a lot of parallels between my character Ash and Fallon though.
Anyway, this is probably the best book I've ever read. Everybody ought to read it.