Dark Side of the Street
Penguin Books USA ( 1967 )
207 pages, 12 chapters
As the book begins we see a man working in a prison. Suddenly he hears a soft rumble in the distance. It appears that there's some kind of exercise by the army because it's the sound of army helicopters dropping soldiers into the forest nearby. That man was Ben Hoffa, sentenced to life imprisonnement. He just stood there watching the paratroopers jump out of the helicop-ters one by one. And then the supervisor came to him. He said to Ben that it was time for him to go to work again. Ben looked at him with a dumb stare which made the officer pissed with anger. The officer just kept on looking and shouting at him but he didn't move. Until that mo-ment... Ben suddenly lifted his knee and pushed it hard into the officer's stomach. He shouted out in pain and almost immediately there were several guards holding Ben down on the dirt floor. The officer got to his feet and slapped Ben in the face. "You fool", he shouted, "you'll pay for that !". Then he took Ben into one of the parked Range Rovers and drove off with na huge smile on his face. As they were on the road the supervisor started to jell at Ben, but he didn't react, he just sat there staring at the outside with that big smile on his face. And then the impossible happened. Suddenly a couple of army men jumped in front of the car and forced both the guards out. The leader came up to Ben and said : "That was easy, wasn't it ?" Ben nodded and they both left, leaving the officer surprised by what just had happened. As they started to walk, the man who called himself Smith came up to Ben Hoffa and asked where the promised money was. It appears that this was all a huge setup. The man apparently works for a guy named "The Baron", who specializes in breaking out convicts out of prison in a "different" style. After a while Smith leaves him for another man to be picked up. Ben Hoffa now gets kind of scared because he doesn't know if he can trust the man. Momentys later a man stops and asks him where he wants to go. Ben remembers the instructions he was given by Smith and says : "To Babylon". The man in the car replies : "That's a step too far for me, but I can take you part of the way". It appears that this is the code language the Baron uses to know who's his next "customer". From now on Ben is transported several times but every time by somebody else. The introduction stops when Ben is "delivered" at a farm owned by Sam Crowther.
Now we get to know our "hero" of this story, a man called Chavasse. It appears that Paul Cha-vasse it a private investigator who is about to be hired by the police to find out who this fa-mous Baron is and how he works. This really isn't a easy job since the Baron only helps con-victs who are most likely never to come out of prison the "normal" way. So there has to be a plan which makes Chavasse go into prison for a long time, at least long enough to get to gain the confidence of one of the most dangerous criminals ever, a man called Harry Youngblood. It appears that this man has worked together with Ben Hoffa ( the man we just saw escape ). As a plan the police decides it would be best that Paul Chavasse would get into the prison the "nor-mal" way ; by some kind of serious crime. So our "hero" is send out to rob a bank. Soon he gets caught ( which of course was the main purpose behind the plan ) and he is sent to the same prison Harry Youngblood is in, where he ( of course ) gets put in the cell with the man himself.
At first things don't seem to work out between the two men, but after a while Chavasse gains Youngblood's trust and they become friends. He also gets to know that Harry Youngblood is an important man in the prison when Paul saves his life. And the it all starts. One day, when they are working in the machine shop of the prison Harry appears to be getting a heart attack. I do say "seems" because in reality this is just a way to get out of the severely guarded prison into the less secure hospital. Paul realizes this and he sees that if he wants to follow Harry he has to get in the hospital too. So in a disperate attempt his throws himself into a working ma-chine which cuts his arm right open. Both men of course get to the hospital where the whole adventure starts. They aren't a long time there until some comes to "break" Harry free. Now is a critical moment in the book because it determines the rest of the book. So Paul Chavasse manages to get a gun from the guard and forces the men to take him with them. And now the whole story I explained you starts all over. They get picked up by several men and in the end they end up in the farm of Sam Crowther.
Here both men get to know Molly, the not so pretty and smart daughter of Sam Crowther. She will help them later on in the story. They also get to know Billy, the mentally and physically disturbed help of Sam Crowther. After a while they find out, with the help of Molly, that Sam isn't planning of getting them to the next step of becoming free, but that he has been given the order to kill them. Luckily they manage to escape but there is only one thing that isn't so fortu-nate for both men : since Molly helped them she now expects that they help her. So the three of them get to the next step themself. Meanwhile Sam Crowther gets a visit from a Mr. Smith, who is the supervisor of the entire operation. Of course he isn't happy about the fact that Youngblood and Chavasse aren't killed, so he kills Crowther for his "bad service" and decides to go after them himself.
Now there are a lot of persons Youngblood, Chavasse and Molly get to know but in the end they come to their last stop at a boat house owned by George Bragg. What they don't know is that Smith has already been there and has told the old man exactly what to do when the three arrive. It appears that the Baron lives on an island which is only accesible by boat. So Harry and Paul force the old man to bring them to the island, at least they try. The old has broken his foot and is therefore not capable of sailing out. Luckily Harry Youngblood has some experien-ce with boats and he suggests that he gets them to their destination. Everything seems to be going well, you'd think, but it really isn't. What both men don't know is that Smith has placed a bomb on the boat which is set off to blow as soon as they are at see. Paul Chavasse gets to know this by coincidence when he discovers Smith in one of the cabins. Unfortunately Smith knows a lot about him : he knows that Paul is a private investigator send out to investigate the Baron. Chavasse now seems to have two problems : first of all the bomb aboard the ship, and second of all the fact that somebody knows about his true identity. The first problem he mana-ges to solve very quickly since he has quite some experience with bombs and how to disarm them. But the second problem is a bit more difficult : he locks him up in one of the cabins and tells Harry that he is a liar. Luckily Harry trusts Paul a lot and there's no problem anymore. Soon they approach the island but there is one thing they hadn't really thought of : you just can't fall in the Baron's house with no plan, nor weapons. So Paul decides to swim to shore and prepare everything before Harry and Molly come in with the boat. From now on every-thing is going wrong : Smith manages to escape and takes over control over the ship. When Chavasse arrives on the island the Baron, Smith and a lot of bodyguards are waiting for him. But now something terrible happens : the Baron informs Harry Youngblood about Paul Cha-vasse's true identity. Immediately Harry starts to change sides ; he agrees to work for the Ba-ron since Paul has abused his confidence. So Paul and Molly are no longer of any use and should be disposed of. But Molly is a bit naive, she really thinks Harry is going to take her with him.
Will Paul survive and will the Baron get away ? I suggest you read the book to find out.
The End :
Paul and Molly manage to escape from their deaths, but Molly still is foolish : she still thinks Harry is going to take her with him. She runs towards the dock and then there is a huge explosion. The Baron, Smith, Harry Youngblood and Molly get killed because the bomb that Paul "defused" wasn't ; it was just set to explode on a later hour. The only surviver, Paul finally gets picked up by the police ( which he called meanwhile ).
The Main Characters
Paul Chavasse : He's a private investigator and our hero of the book. He's the son of a French officer who was killed during the war. His mother is English and she has rai-sed the boy severely. Paul Chavasse has already travelled extensively and he has an Ph.D. in Modern Languages. He has a sharp tongue which is someti-mes a disadvantage. Another weakness of him is that he can't resist beautiful women. ( To be brief he's the standard type of "good guy", another James Bond ).
Harry Youngblood : Harry Youngblood is forty-two years of age and he had joined the Na-vy at the age of seventeen, finishing the war as a petty officer in motor torpedo boats. He has a huge criminal record which includes burglary, robbery, etc. He's not very smart and is used to be guided (as you can notice in the story > Chavasse takes all the decisions).
The Baron : A ruthless and evil man who doesn't care about anybody. He isn't afraid of any methods to get rid of his enemies. Despite of this his doesn't like to get his hands "dirty" ; he always lets other people do the killing. You can say that he's a leader type of guy who's too haughty to do work himself.
Molly Crowther : A naive farmersgirl. She has always been used to do the dirty work. She's not very smart ( she thinks that Harry will tak her with him, when all he ever did was use her ) but she's good of hart and far to credulous.
Style & time in the book
The style that Jack Higgins uses is quite classic : he's lets go of the information about the story bit by bit which almost obliges the reader to keep on reading. He uses regular language which is advantagous for the reader ( after all who likes a book where you have to look everything up in a dictionnary ? ).
The book is 207 pages long and contains 12 chapters. I read the whole book in about four hours. I think this mainly is because when you start to read it you just can't stop or you'll lose the concept of the story.
I think that "Dark side of the Street" is a very good book. It's been written fluently by Jack Higgins. The story is logically build ; I mean all the things it in their place. I personally think that despite it has been written in 1967 it can easily compete with newer books. I surely can recommend this book to everybody who likes to read a detective with a touch of a thriller.
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