The Eagle Has Landed
For years, in my head, I had trouble keeping Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed seperate from Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal (both were thrillerish books written in the '70s with movie adaptaions). That was a shame, since both books have a lot to offer of themselves (and aren't really similiar in any way). I was able to read Jackal several months ago (and watch the niffy movie adaption), so I finally got around to reading the Higgins book.
Eagle, set in 1943, concerns a German plot to capture Winston Churchill on British soil. Set in motion with comments from Hitler (following the rescue of Benito Mussolini by a team of German special forces), it starts out as just a planning exercise (with the hope that Hitler will forget it) but takes on a will of its own as the planner (Colonel Max Radl) begins to believe that the plan could work. Radl finds that Churchill is planning to visit the samll isolated town of Studley Constable, and there is already a German agent in place (Joanna Grey , a South Africian who moved to England after the Boer War). Radl finds the perfect head of the mission in Lt. Col. Kurt Steiner (who has an American mother and was educated in England), and decides that IRA operative Liam Devlin would be the right person to lay the groundwork.
The paratroopers infiltrate the villiage (posing as a Polish squad on manevers) and for a time the plan seems as if it might succeed. While watching the manevers, there's an accident involving children and a waterwheel, and the German's cover is blown. What follows is a siege of the villiage, as American Rangers (led by a colonel desparate for action) make a foolish frontal attack. As the Germans try to hold out, Devlin must deal with the English lass Molly that he has fallen in love with.
The book is told primarily from the German viewpoint, and at times you find yourself almost rooting for the paratroopers to pull off the mission. I'm sure this raised some eyebrows in 1975, but for me the characters of Joanna Grey and Liam Devlin are harder to like though both have reasons to hate the British (only Grey "likes" the Germans...Devlin is much more in the vein of "...the enemy of my enemy..."). The character of Steiner and Radl are well drawn, I think, as are some of the Studley Constable villiagers.
If you enjoy thrillers, especially set during WWII, then I think this is a fine example, and well worth picking up.