Frederick Forsyth Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Frederick Forsyth is a writer of suspense thrillers based on historical events. His novels are a fictional slice of life in a given place at a given time. Truth is blended with fiction in such a way that the reader rarely knows where one ends and the other begins. Forsyth uses his background as a journalist to create in his novels an atmosphere of “being there” for the reader. His general style is also that of the journalist: crisp, factual, and clear paragraphs that efficiently convey information.

Although each work by Forsyth stands individually, there are certain similarities which may be described as his stylistic formula for success: There is always an efficient hero who is at odds with the establishment; a historical backdrop frequently places the hero in contact with known public figures in known historical situations; intricate detail is offered, lending authenticity to the work; and ingenious plots, which resemble large jigsaw puzzles of seemingly disconnected actions or events, are developed. Other writers use one or more parts of the formula, but it is these four facets that, when used collectively, distinguish a Forsyth work.

The heroes of Forsyth’s novels are not unlike Forsyth himself was when he first created them. They are in their thirties, articulate, and bright. They do not suffer fools lightly, especially when the fools are in the organizational hierarchy at a higher level than the hero. Forsyth, however, is not antiestablishment; for each fool there is an individual who helps, trusts, or believes in the hero. The establishment is neither good nor evil, only human. Still, the hero is usually forced to overcome not only the villains but also those on his own side. Fortunately, the hero is a man of action who is not bound by conventions, and he prevails.

The Day of the Jackal

In Forsyth’s first three novels, it is the hero who sets the pace and is the focal point of the action. Deputy Commissaire Claude Lebel, in The Day of the Jackal, is the ultimate professional detective; his antagonist, the Chacal, is the ultimate professional assassin. Only they can appreciate each other’s thoroughness; only a Lebel is able to counter the actions of the Jackal.

The Day of the Jackal provides an example of how Forsyth uses known persons, events, or issues to establish the immediate background for the setting and to authenticate his story. There were several assassination attempts made by the OAS against de Gaulle. Although the reader knows that de Gaulle was never assassinated, the plotline of The Day of the Jackal is so compelling that suspense is maintained until the final lines of the book.

Forsyth also provides detail to add to the authenticity of his novels: Each book is a cornucopia of “how to” material, ranging from how to arrange an assassination to how to prepare a sunburn salve. Although the detail at times seemingly interferes with the pace of the story, it is a necessary aspect of the Forsyth formula, for it substantiates the action and informs and instructs the reader. For The Day of the Jackal, Forsyth interviewed assassins, a gun maker, and passport forgers, among others, to learn the techniques of assassination. His own interviews from the period provided intimate details regarding various participants. In each case, the trust developed by the reader for Forsyth’s message is a by-product of the emphasis on detail.

The Odessa File

Peter Miller, in The Odessa File, is a highly competent crime reporter who, through dogged persistence and despite official opposition, counters the harsh professionalism of ODESSA,...

(The entire section is 1510 words.)