” At precisely one o’clock on the morning of Saturday, November 6, 1943, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer of the SS and Chief of State Police, received a simple message: ‘The Eagle has landed.’ It meant that a small force of German paratroopers were at that moment safely in England and poised to snatch the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, from the Norfolk country house where he was spending a quiet weekend near the sea. ” (Prologue)
The Eagle Has Landed is speculative fiction at its best. Set during the World War Two when the war was going badly for Germany in 1943, Hitlet has an idea that if the Germans could make a successful strike against Winston Churchill, perhaps British morale would be so shaken that a negotiated peace could be made. Hitler commissions Himmler to hatch a plan that will either kidnap or kill Churchill, who, the Germans learn from Joanna Grey, a 68-year-old lady-spy living in the Norfolk village of Studley Constable, will be staying with the local lord of the manor. Tasked with planning and carrying out this mission are Radl, Steiner, along with what remains of Steiner’s paratroop assault group after having fought on the Eastern front and then being assigned in disgrace to the Channel Islands, and Devlin, an IRA man resident in Berlin.
Two-thirds of the book devotes to the meticulous planning of this operation to kidnap the British prime minister. Higgins goes into details all the specifics of this operation: parachuting down the hamlet, the chartering of a flight, the recruitment of pilot, the ingenuity of deception, the acquisition of land vehicles and the infiltration into the village. The action is sleek and intensely absorbing, keeping alive one’s eagerness to see what will happen next., as the spy works seamlessly with the assault team to over the village and hold it incommunicado. The genteel lady who spies for Germany manages to fool everyone and win complete trust of the local lord and Father Vereker, who knows of the Prime Minister’s incognito visit but has worn to secrecy. So his commitment to confidentiality works in favor of the assault team because the priest would have thought the German team, disguised and passed as Englishmen, are sent over to guard the PM.
The book is evenly paced and splendidly written. It follows a mission plot that actually makes villainous protagonists sympathetic. The operation might have been successful had it not been for a German soldier who sacrifices his life to save a little girl from drowning in the creek. Higgins takes time to fully develop his characters. The lieutenant-colonel Kurt Steiner is a weary combat veteran who despises the Nazis, and has no choice but to accept the assignment because his involvement might ease up the outcome of trial of his father, who is accused of treason. The only zealot among this assault team, ironically, is a treacherous Englishman, a member of the SS British Free Corps.
The whole orchestration and execution of the mission sends me to the edge of the seat. It’s intensely suspenseful to watch the choreography of these players as the clock is ticking. Higgins has the reader riveted at how his characters realize their fate.
356 pp. Berkley Books. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]