This is the finest book about drinking I’ve ever seen. With every action, or conversation, emotion, or other thing of interest, a drink is enjoyed by the characters. Recent studies have shown that a good drink will noticeably improve the dramatic quality of a story. That is quite evident in Thunder Point, whose 320 pages are enhanced with no less than 87 glasses of various types of beer, wine, and spirituous liquor. That is an average of one every 3.5 pages! If only real life could be so liquid!
There is an amusing subplot about a U-boat wreck in the waters off the Virgin Islands, but the real action is where the booze is. And I would caution readers new to Higgins that not just action is denoted by the approach of the bartender. Characterizations are also neatly done by the bottle, so to speak. The hero, Sean Dillon, is Irish, but he loves champagne. This renders him romantic, and not a little enigmatic. This is not to say he won’t drink other things such as Irish whiskey or even scotch, but the core of his personality is built by champagne. Would you believe he even goes for a bit of brandy after a dive in the cold ocean?
Also, the impeccably correct English brigadier who runs covert operations for England prefers scotch, but by the end of the tale he has begun to unbend to the extent that he starts to enjoy champagne, too, seemingly as much as Dillon! I hope it won’t be considered a spoiler to relate that while in the first half of the book scotch is running neck and neck with champagne for frequency of mention, by the end champagne has outstripped scotch by 23 glasses–39 to 16. This is in keeping with the generally celebratory and joyous tone of the work.
It’s a testimony to Higgins’ considerable skill as a writer that in the last thirty pages when the characters’ drinking falls off, he neatly picks up the slack with mayhem. And the author has clearly done his homework in this department. Not only do the villains kill everyone who knows anything about the submarine, just as they do in real life, so too do the agents of Her Majesty kill everyone who knows anything about the villains. Is it just coincidence that this is how it happens in Hollywood? I don’t think so. I think Mr. Higgins has access to the highest levels of government, which in turn are tutored by the sages of Los Angeles. And this is fitting. For years and years Hollywood has been telling us that any problem can be solved with a gun. The box office figures show that they are right. When will people listen?
Not only that, but this recent trend toward not smoking and toward accusing smokers of being not romantic is utterly demolished by Sean Dillon. He has a special lighter called a Zippo, and when he uses it to light one of his cigarettes (I’m not sure which brand he likes best, but a champagne called Krug is his favorite champagne) you just know something cool is going to happen. For example, when one of the evil men who is in on the plot to get a briefcase out of the submarine thinks he is going to escape punishment, Dillon is right on the scene and his arrival is heralded by the Zippo. Get this: the Zippo is turned on not to light Dillon’s own cigarette, but the evil man’s! Then Dillon disposes of the evil man.
Don’t be turned off by the idea that this is all about scotch and champagne. Beer and wine play an important part, and there is a healthy amount of gin as well. The vodka lovers among you will have to wait until Dillon goes to Russia to sort out some problem there. And if tequila is your favorite, take heart. While there are no references to tequila in Thunder Point, the Virgin Islands are not far from Mexico. Not far at all. Maybe Higgins will send Dillon, Zippo flaring, to the cantinas of Chiapas to work with Subcommandant Marcos to solve that troublesome situation.