Thriller writer Jack Higgins, best known for The Eagle Has Landed, has died aged 92

Jack Higgins, known for his 1975 novel The Eagle Has Landed, has died at the age of 92 and is considered one of the most successful thriller writers of the 20th century

Undated handout photo issued by HarperCollins Publishers of bestselling novelist Henry Patterson, who wrote 85 books including The Eagle Has Landed, under the pen name Jack Higgins, has died at the age of 92. Issue date: Saturday April 9, 2022. PA Photo. Patterson, who wrote mostly thrillers and spy novels, sold more than 250 million copies and was translated into about 60 languages, died at his home in Jersey surrounded by his family, HarperCollins said. See PA story DEATH Higgins. Photo credit should read: HarperCollins Publishers/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may be used for editorial reporting purposes only to concurrently depict events, things or people depicted in the photo or facts mentioned in the photo's caption. Reuse of the image may require further permission from the copyright owner.
Henry Patterson has written 85 books including The Eagle Has Landed

Jack Higgins’ path from high school dropout to one of the most successful thriller writers in the world is the most compelling story ever.

Higgins, best known for his 1975 novel The Eagle Has Landed, died yesterday at the age of 92.

The author, whose real name was Henry Patterson, published 85 books in his lifetime, most of them in the spy field, and has sold more than 250 million copies worldwide and reportedly made more than £4 million a year.

Publisher HarperCollins dubbed him simply “The Legend,” and Chief Executive Charlie Redmayne said, “He was a classic thriller writer: instinctive, tough, relentless.

“It was a privilege to be part of his publishing business for even part of his career – his death marks the end of an era.”

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins

Literary agent Jonathan Lloyd said, “I now look forward to working with his wife Denise and daughter Hannah and family to preserve and promote his extraordinary legacy.”

Higgins was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 27 July 1929 to a Northern Irish mother and an English father who left the country shortly after his son was born.

He later recalled, “My father doesn’t exist for me. I know he remarried because a relative got in touch, but I’m not interested.”

His mother moved them to Shankill Road, Belfast, where he bore the brunt of sectarian tensions.

Scene from the 1976 film The Eagle Has Landed


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“As a Protestant, I would be beaten up by Catholics,” he said. “One time shots were fired at the tram we were riding in and my mother pushed me to the ground and lay on top of me.”

Although apathetic at school, Higgins loved books and recalled crouching under a window at night and reading by streetlight.

“I read Oliver Twist when I was six,” he said. “I probably didn’t understand everything in it – but I didn’t care.”

After his mother remarried, the family moved to Leeds. Higgins left Roundhay Grammar School for Boys with few qualifications and began two years of national service from 1947.

Michael Caine actor in the film The Eagle Has Landed

His security work on the East German border would end up as fodder for his spy thrillers.

He studied sociology at the London School of Economics while working as a laborer before qualifying as a teacher and working at Leeds Polytechnic.

In his spare time he began to write novels. His first, Sad Wind From the Sea, was published in 1959 and received an advance of £75 for it – around £1,850 today.

It came not long after his marriage to first wife Amy Hewitt. Higgins later called the advance “the greatest wedding gift we could have gotten.”

For the next 10 years he wrote two or three thrillers a year.

But The Eagle Has Landed, about a fictional German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill, was to change his life — even if his agent didn’t like the idea of ​​the book at first.

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It sold 50 million copies and became a hit Hollywood film in 1976, starring Sir Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland.

When Higgins joked, “It would be nice to make a million by the time I retire,” he was told he made that out of the book in just a week.

Several of his other books have been made into films including A Prayer for the Dying, To Catch a King and The Windsor Protocol.

He had another big hit in 1992 with Eye of the Storm, a fictional retelling of a mortar attack on Prime Minister John Major by a ruthless young Irish gunman and philosopher named Sean Dillon.

Higgins’ prolific output was reportedly fueled by late-night writing sessions over cigars and champagne.

His last novel, The Midnight Bell, was published in 2017 and was a bestseller.

In one of his later interviews, he recalled his unusual life, saying, “I had a chance to do anything.

The car, the driver, Beverly Hills, MGM, the movies, the Carson Show, Larry King, hanging out with Richard Burton, being served by a midget in a green jacket in the Polo Lounge… the Hollywood dream and the Hollywood oddity is everything happens.”

He died at home in Jersey. His cause of death is not yet known.

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