Jack Higgins’ book East of Desolation is a thriller with a complex plot that will keep you wanting to read more. The book is quite short at only 244 pages with chapters approximately ten to fifteen pages in length on average. The story is based on the lives of several naughty aviators and insurers who meet by chance and end up entangled in a murderous plot.

Joe Martin is the main character in East of Desolation. He is a no-nonsense and tough pilot who offers charter flights to people visiting Greenland for business or pleasure. His daily duties include taking people to local fishing spots and transporting supplies to various businesses in his neighborhood. One of Joe’s best friends is named Arnie Fassberg, and he and Joe are the only two people on the island who have planes equipped with skis and floats, allowing them to carry passengers to desolate areas of the country.

One night, while at a bar, Joe and Arnie meet a world-renowned movie star named Jack Desforge. Jack is a John Wayne type of man. He’s tough, tough, handsome, and attracts females wherever he goes. The three men also run into a group of men and a widow named Sarah Kelso who are in town on business. The leader of the group is a man named Vogel who claims to work in the insurance industry. He approaches Joe one night and asks him to take the group to the wreckage of a local plane that can only be accessed through the air.

From the beginning, Joe can sense something very strange about Vogel and his associates. Vogel tells Joe that the rubble is very important to his business because he has to pay insurance claims to the widows of the men who died in the rubble. However, Vogel’s story is not coherent and one of the widows of the deceased, Sarah Kelso, does not show any kind of sadness. Joe agrees to fly the mission regardless of the large sum of money Vogel will pay and to do the supposedly grieving widow a favor.

Joe soon flies over the wreckage and realizes that it will be extremely difficult to land on the icy surface surrounding the plane. Even if a landing did occur, it would take approximately three hours to ski to the wreckage. Martin still flies the group and skis with them to the rubble only to find that the story becomes increasingly suspicious. Sarah Kelso’s widow is buried in a shallow ice grave with her wedding ring but a false identity. Also, there are a couple of fresh snow slopes in the vicinity with oil spots in the snow. Obviously someone had been in the rubble the day before and Joe Martin was missing something important.

Vogel, Martin and company return to Martin’s hometown and meet at a local establishment for a drink. Some drunken sailors enter the bar led by a man named DaGama, a dirty man with the strength of a giant. They quickly start a fight with Desforge and Arnie, only to be interrupted by the local police just before someone dies. Everyone involved is bruised and bloodied, but DaGama storms off after a chair is smashed over his head.

Soon, the true motivation for Vogel’s trip to Greenland becomes clear; there is a great fortune of emeralds located in the wreckage of the plane. Not only is there great fortune, but Vogel, DaGama and other contract workers are working together to obtain the jewels and destroy anyone who crosses their path. The jewels get into the wrong hands and they end up going to Desforge, Arnie, and a woman named Gudrid who is trying to land a role in one of the upcoming Jack Desforge movies. Vogel doesn’t like having his emeralds with a stranger, so he has DaGama and her drunken sailor friends follow Joe, Jack, and Gurdrid and punish them in any way possible.

Several times in the story, Joe and his friends find themselves on the wrong side of violence and greed. For example, Joe is walking near the pier one night and is hit in the back of the head by a lone robber. He wakes up several hours later in the storage compartment of a rotten and smelly fishing boat. Joe soon realizes that he is on DaGama’s ship and faces certain death. However, make your way overboard and swim to shore in the icy waters of Greenland. However, Joe is not the only injured and tortured person in the book. Arnie is also shot to death one night and everyone hopes that DaGama has attacked again. Later in the book, we find out that it is actually Jack Desforge who killed Arnie with his own weapon. Jack was not getting any roles in the movie and decided that the easiest way for him to earn money and continue his easy lifestyle was to steal the jewelry himself. However, Arnie resisted and Jack killed him with a shotgun fired at point-blank range.

Joe does not know at this point that Jack is now a third party fighting for possession of the jewels. The two continue to run from Vogel and his hired hands and simply stay alive. Finally, Joe arrives at a house where there are guns firing repeatedly to find DaGama holding a young girl named Ilana hostage. Joe is now a hostage as well, as he is unarmed and was shot in the wrist area before entering the house. DaGama demands that Joe come out and tell Jack to stop shooting DeGama and the house or Ilana will die. Joe obeys DaGama’s orders, realizing he has no other options, and convinces Jack to come out.

As the men stand out in the open and try to negotiate the best possible scenario that everyone can live in, everyone stays out of jail and Vogel can have his jewelry, Jack comes up with a plan. Since the group’s culprits were Vogel, DaGama, and Jack Desforge, the three of them would divide the jewels equally and leave the country together. Desforge and Vogel would split the jewels fifty percent while Joe and Ilana can live in peace and out of harm’s way. However, Jack seems to have a strange expression on his face and when they take off on Joe’s plane to leave the country, Ilana and Joe realize what Jack has done.

Jack knew they would kill him in the near future no matter what he did. Vogel and DeGama would never be okay with splitting the fortune and would simply put a bullet in Jack to get rid of him. Thus, he, Vogel, and DeGama flew in the air for just one minute before voluntarily crashing the plane into a mountain. In this way, the three culprits would be taken care of and Joe and Ilana could really live carefree. Before leaving, Jack gave Ilana his belt that contained several bags. No one noticed at the time, but it was supposed to be the jewelry bag. He opened the bags to find pebbles; the jewels were missing. However, Joe returns to a nearby area where he was on the run from DaGama and Vogel earlier in the day to find his stash of jewels in a small pile. Joe cleverly replaced the emeralds with pebbles earlier in the evening to make sure they were out of the wrong hands.

Jack Higgins’s book, East of Desolation, is a gripping and murderous tale with a happy ending. Although Joe Martin is shot in the arm, hits him, loses his friend to DeGama and is not very lucky in business, he ends up with a fortune of emeralds. The author does not say what happens to Joe and his jewelry, but the reader can assume that Joe and Ilana live happily ever after with their new fortune. Overall, this story is captivating and will keep you reading for hours. I rate this book 4 out of 5.

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