Sometimes I think people get the wrong impression when I call a novel “great airplane reading,” which is how I’d label Jack Higgins’ 1966 thriller “The Iron Tiger.” It’s not a derisive comment, rather (I hope) emblematic of a book’s particular style: something that’s intended to be swallowed quickly, that might not exactly live long in the memory, but annihilates hours; which is all you want it for.

“The Iron Tiger” is a thriller of another era, when potboilers were somewhat more fashionable and marketable. I’m not sure you could tell the same story today; at least not without fleshing out its non-white characters, and giving them more agency. Higgins’ novel creaks because of its reliance on archaic ideals, in which the white outsider — in this case ex-Navy pilot Jack Drummond — is the British hero who must rise to the occasion to lead a rag-tag group of survivors out of the (fictional) India-China border country of Balpur, through dangerous, mountainous terrain, to the Indian border, while hunted by the Red Chinese army.

The book clocks in at less than two-hundred pages. Character development is minimal; bar the opening chapters, which provide a couple of evocative descriptions of India, the writing is sparse. The action goes down smooth, but doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping; despite the perilousness of their situation, the characters never really feel in jeopardy. But these scenes slide noiselessly into gear and the result is lightweight, page-turning fun.

Paperback : 192 pages
ISBN-10 : 0330307193
ISBN-13 : 978-0330307192
Publisher : PAN BOOKS; New Ed Edition (January 1, 1989)

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