Patterson’s early novels, written under his own name as well as under the pseudonyms James Graham, Martin Fallon, and Hugh Marlow, are brisk, competent, but essentially forgettable thrillers that typically feature hardened, cynical heroes, ruthless villains, and dangerous locales. Patterson published thirty-five such novels “sometimes three or four a year between” 1959 and 1974, learning his craft (as many thriller writers have, in the world of paperback originals). East of Desolation (1968), A Game for Heroes (1970) and The Savage Day (1972) stand out among his early work for their vividly drawn settings (Greenland, the Channel Islands, and Belfast, respectively) and offbeat plots.
Patterson began using the pseudonym “Jack Higgins” in the late 1960s, but it was the publication of The Eagle Has Landed in 1975 that made his reputation. Eagle represented a step forward in the length and depth of Patterson’s work. Its plot (concerned with a German commando unit sent into England to kidnap Winston Churchill) was fresh and innovative, and the characters had significantly more depth than in his earlier work. One in particular stood out: Irish gunman, poet, and philosopher Liam Devlin. Higgins followed Eagle (which sold tens of millions of copies worldwide) with a series of equally ambitious thrillers, including several (Touch the Devil, Confessional, The Eagle Has Flown) featuring return appearances by Devlin.
The third phase of Patterson’s career began with the publication of Eye of the Storm in 1992. A fictionalized retelling of an unsuccessful mortar attack on Prime Minister John Major by a ruthless young Irish gunman-philosopher named Sean Dillon hired by an Iraqi millionaire. Recruited by British intelligence at the beginning of the next novel, Thunder Point (1993), Dillon became Patterson’s first real continuing character a Liam Devlin for the 1990s and beyond.