Frederick Forsyth Long Fiction Analysis
Frederick Forsyth’s financially lucrative suspense thrillers set a technically trained professional on, variously, a collision course with a lone-wolf killer, a secret organization, or deadly representatives of a rogue branch of a government bureaucracy; the novels quicken their pace as characters travel widely across national boundaries, experiencing new geographies, customs, and points of view. The shared competence of protagonist and antagonist means readers learn how to do everything from building a bomb or other specialized weapon to correctly employing distinctive Arab gestures to signal regional origins. Forsyth provides the thrill of insider knowledge about current events and a meaningful pattern that unites seemingly disparate news stories. Journalism taught Forsyth how to insinuate into his fiction a persuasive semblance of reality, provide a broad context and significance for seemingly minor incidents, and make credible and seemingly authentic descriptions of events behind the headlines. Plot and structure create suspense and drive the action forward.
Despite attempts to interject feminine perspectives in his later works, Forsyth’s stories depend on an underlying sense of shared male interests and attitudes. He told John Mortimer of the The Times of London what he aims for in his fiction—depicting the immoral committing immoral acts no different from those committed by an immoral establishment—so compellingly told that at least four copycat crimes have been associated with his books.
The Day of the Jackal
The Day of the Jackal tracks the movement of the real, infamous international assassin Carlos the Jackal, a mythic figure thought to have tried to assassinate Charles de Gaulle because de Gaulle supported Algerian independence. (Carlos the Jackal lives on in the works of Robert Ludlum and others.) The novel establishes strategies that became Forsyth’s signature: alternating plot lines that promote suspense as the different parties move closer and closer to a deadly encounter, admiration for technically competent professionals, and a contrast between the professional and the amateur.
Forsyth spends a great deal of time on trivial details that prove essential (such as passport forgery), contingency plans that come into play, and logical responses to tight situations. He enables readers to see the action from the perspective of a committed assassin and to appreciate his expertise. Ultimately, however, Commissioner Claude Lebel, a thorough professional, thwarts the Jackal’s plan and saves de Gaulle.
The Odessa File
The Odessa File draws on real-life attempts to track Nazi war criminals. The former SS concentration camp commandant tracked in this story is Captain Eduard Roschmann, a historical figure whose actions Forsyth describes with accuracy. In this story, German crime reporter Peter Miller proves his investigative competence as he skillfully deals with the anti-Nazi underground and the Odessa organization (former members of the SS). Readers learn a great deal about the Holocaust and about the Jewish pursuit of Nazis connected with the concentration camps of World War II.
The Dogs of War
The Dogs of War is based on Forsyth’s Biafran experiences and his indirect involvement in an attempted coup against then-president of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema. The story depicts attempts to bring down an Idi Amin-like African dictator. The initial motivation is not sympathy for suffering citizens but a desire to take over newly discovered deposits of platinum. Sir James Manson, a British mining company director, hires mercenary Cat Shannon to depose the tyrant and establish a puppet government. Manson plans to take over mining rights, but Shannon and his crew develop a conscience and support the citizens over the greedy, self-interested Manson and the multinational corporations he represents. During this process, readers learn much about the financing and operation of gunrunning, mortar-shell trajectories, and more.
The Devil’s Alternative
Unlike its predecessors, The Devil’s Alternative describes a fictional terrorist takeover of an oil-filled supertanker that leaves no viable alternative: Yielding to terrorist demands could set off a nuclear war; refusing to yield will create the biggest oil spill in history. Typical of Forsyth, real political figures are present, and are thinly disguised: Joan Carpenter as British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Bill Matthews as U.S. president Jimmy Carter,...
(The entire section is 1885 words.)