Cover image of "Touch the Devil," a novel about the Corsican mob and the IRA

Liam Devlin, Martin Brosnan, and Frank Barry are ruthless, highly trained killers. All three are veterans of the IRA, but their paths have diverged widely by 1979. Devlin, now sixty-one years of age and still a believer in the cause of a united Irish nation, surfaces from time to time on university campuses in Ireland and the United States, where he is an occasional professor of English literature. Brosnan, convicted four years earlier in France in a near-successful attempt to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, has been confined to a cell on Belle Isle in the Mediterranean, the successor to the notorious Devil’s Island. For his part, Barry has turned mercenary. His current employer is the KGB. And he might have some connection to the Corsican mob.

The IRA was yesterday’s ISIS

If you’re under the age of fifty or so, you may be unaware that, in the eyes of the British, the IRA in the 1960s and 70s was regarded with as much fear and disgust as ISIS is today. Earlier in 1979, an IRA bomb had killed Lord Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Phillip, commander of Allied Forces in Southeast Asia in World War II, and the last Viceroy of India. If the IRA had assassinated the Queen, it’s unlikely that the furor would have been much greater. This is the “army” from which Devlin, Brosnan, and Barry have all emerged into their divergent careers. Now, when Barry murders the brilliant MI5 agent sent to end his life, Devlin and Brosnan are recruited to take out Barry — an assignment they cherish because of long-standing rivalry.

Touch the Devil (Liam Devlin #2) by Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson) ★★★★☆

Enter the KGB and the Corsican mob

MI5 (called DI5 in the novel) approaches Devlin with a seemingly impossible challenge: to persuade Brosnan that MI5 can arrange for him to leave Belle Isle and join Devlin in pursuit of Barry. However, Brosnan isn’t easy to convince. Further compounding the problem, his cellmate is the aging former head of the Union Corse, the Corsican mob, and the two have grown close. Meanwhile, Barry has taken on a high-priority assignment for the KGB: to hijack a truck in England carrying an advanced weapon coveted by the USSR and the USA. To add glamour and love interest, a beautiful and courageous young French photojournalist gets involved as well as all sides come together in a spectacular series of collisions.

It’s all a glorious cockup, suspenseful and entertaining all the way.

About the author

Jack Higgins, a pseudonym of bestselling British author Harry Patterson, has been writing thrillers and novels of espionage since 1959. According to Wikipedia, “His 84 novels in total have sold over 150 million copies and have been translated into 55 languages.” Four of those novels have featured Liam Devlin, of which Touch the Devil is the second. A much longer running series features another Irish terrorist named Sean Dillon. To date there are twenty-one novels in that series.

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