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18 November 1999 Edition

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New in print: At the OK Corral (County Antrim)

The White House Connection
By Jack Higgins
Published by Michael Joseph
Price £16.99 (Hb) Stg

Don't shout about it, but Jack Higgins is beginning to lose his touch. His latest novel has great pace and graveyards of corpses when it gets going but the getting going takes a surprisingly long time. The scene setting is overly elaborate and the characters - until the action starts - are not quite believable.

The White House Connection could be included in the list being compiled of thrillers set against the background of the last 30 years; thrillers which are often written by otherwise unheard of authors who always portray the IRA or any other Irish nationalist grouping as the `baddies'.

The CIA have a veritable research university at Langley - I met an historian of theirs who had compiled two histories of Central American countries, classified and unpublished and on his release from the organisation had as reference a `this is my beloved son' type document from Allen Dulles.

Similarly, one feels that English Intelligence have a unit writing popular fiction thrillers, with an Irish background, all done as part of the propaganda war.

Higgins is too good for that, his stories are replete with ambiguous characters - the baddie in this one is a Protestant lord, not using his title, who heads a vicious gang called `The Sons of Erin'. His chief opponent is a Catholic Lady of the Manor in England, a Bostonian in fact, whose son was particularly brutally mangled by the laird of Antrim (who finally meets his end at the hands of an Irish-speaking guardian `IRA enforcer') and is now similarly employed in one of his young Queen's more recondite secret services.

Simple sentences support the stance: ``I sometimes long for the old days before the damned peace process made things so difficult''; ``murdered... no I can't accept that word. We've been at war with these people for too many years''.

On the other hand, the avenging Lady's son got ``a transfer to the SAS, for his ability with languages'' along with ``a flair for dialects'' (Higgins meant regional accents). And Bushmills whiskey is mentioned so often that one wonders if they subsidised the book: if so, it could have been priced more reasonably.


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