Frederick Forsyth

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Frederick Forsyth Long Fiction Analysis

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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...

(This entire section contains 1885 words.)

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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, Stanislaw Poklewski as U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and David Lawrence as U.S. secretary of state Cyrus Vance.

The plot features Jewish Ukrainian nationalists with good cause to strike against the Soviet Union. The nationalists are acting at the same time that plant failures lead to fungicide poisoning of the Soviet wheat crop. Failed harvests drive hardliners to contemplate invading Western Europe and the United States to offer food in exchange for military concessions. British security agent Adam Munro finds himself putting a Russian woman he loves at risk to glean insider information to resolve this dilemma.

The Fourth Protocol

The Fourth Protocol takes its title from a so-called gentleman’s agreement not to take portable nuclear weapons into enemy territory. In this case, the violators of protocol are a rogue Soviet group determined to change the direction of British and Western politics by detonating a small atomic device at a U.S. airbase in England. By blaming the Americans, they hope to put the antinuclear Labour Party in power. The novel includes a memorandum on how British Labour Party politics play into Soviet plans.

To accomplish their goals, the rogue Soviets have put into play a lone-wolf assassin tracked by a nondescript but highly competent police officer. The plot alternates between the two characters in typical Forsyth style, closing the distance for the final encounter. The ease with which a small nuclear bomb can be assembled and employed is shocking, and this plot device became a staple of popular fiction and film, raising legitimate concerns.

The Negotiator

Before the novel reached print, the intricate plot of The Negotiator was dated by the real-world end of the Soviet Union, a hazard of topical fiction. In this story, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. president John Cormack negotiate an unprecedented disarmament treaty, cutting arms and military costs by half and ushering in true peace. Conservative Texans and Soviets dependent on a confrontational status quo to retain national pride and power join forces to kidnap and threaten to execute the president’s only son. Low-key hostage negotiator Quinn joins federal agent Samantha Somerville to undermine these villains, but negotiations fail, and these two chase and romance their way through Europe, always a little behind the malefactors and plot organizers. Ironically, Quinn and Somerville end up in a wintry Vermont wilderness in alliance with supportive Russian agents after the same villains, and Russians, Americans, and British join forces to defeat the criminals in their respective secret services.

The Deceiver

The Deceiver reflects nostalgically on the Cold War when heroes and villains were more clearly recognizable, their political positions predictably nationalistic. The novel challenges the assertion that perestroika ushered in peaceful coexistence, ending international crises and the need for the derring-do of traditional spies.

The deceiver of the title, aging British agent Sam McCready, began his career as a field agent, rose rapidly through the ranks, and now heads the Deception, Disinformation, and Psychological Operations desk of the Secret Intelligence Service. However, forced retirement is in the offing. McCready challenges accusations that his type of spying is outmoded by East-West cooperation, requesting that his service record be reexamined. The resultant hearings request that he recount and defend the most notorious of his past exploits: four stories divided by Interludes. These stories describe a clandestine crossing of the Berlin Wall, encounters with Russian defectors and Irish Republic Army arms smugglers, and engagements with a far-reaching terrorist network. McCready retires at about the same time that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, Forsyth’s reminder that spies such as McCready will always be needed to provide intelligence and confront enemies behind the scenes.

The Fist of God

The Fist of God focuses on the West’s lack of intelligence information about Hussein’s closed Iraq and its troop strength and deployment before the Persian Gulf War. To provide insider information about that country, daring British operative Mike Martin of Britain’s elite Special Air Service Regiment draws on his childhood experience in the region to go underground as an Arab militant and try to contact a Mossad plant, codenamed Jericho, who is a deep-cover mole in the Baghdad establishment. Once on the move in Iraq, however, Martin discovers more at stake than up-to-date intelligence.

Hussein has an ultimate secret weapon, probably nuclear, codenamed Fist of God—a doomsday bomb to ignite the Middle East. As the novel shifts rapidly from Washington, D.C., and London to Baghdad and Kuwait (Martin’s entryway), Martin skates on the edge of discovery and, in the best spy tradition, achieves much with little. Forsyth takes readers behind bland governmental bulletins to demonstrate how real intelligence is gleaned and how behind-the-scenes battles are waged.

Icon

Icon is the story of right-wing Russian fanatic Igor Komarov, who poses as a moderate to seize power but whose neo-Nazi document, the Black Manifesto, exposes his real plans for the nation if elected. A moment of carelessness places the secret document in the hands of a Jewish janitor, who, horrified, passes it on to an American embassy diplomat. Komarov willingly risks all to retrieve this potentially damaging document, while British and U.S. agents and diplomats debate whether or not it is genuine. Former CIA operative Jason Monk returns to Moscow in disguise, where former master British spy runner Nigel Irvine and a Chechen warlord Irvine had once saved help him track down the janitor and tie together the threads of evidence that damn Komarov.

Avenger

The avenger of this novel’s title is Cal Dexter, a Vietnam tunnel rat turned small-town New Jersey attorney and vigilante pursuer who proves unable to save his murdered daughter but is now adept at stalking villains. A billionaire Canadian mining magnate hires Dexter to bring to trial Serbian warlord and mass murderer Zoran Zilic, who brutally butchered the Canadian’s idealistic grandson (an aid worker in Bosnia). After searching the United Arab Emirates, Dexter finds Zilic hiding out in a jungle compound in the fictional South American Republic of San Martin, protected by hired security guards and U.S. agents. In the weeks leading up to September 11, 2001, the FBI recruits Zilic to kill Osama Bin Laden, and Dexter pursues Zilic as Zilic pursues Bin Laden. The novel ends on September 10, 2001.

The Afghan

In The Afghan, Mike Martin of The Fist of God returns from retirement for an even more dangerous mission: to disguise himself as Taliban leader Izmat Khan (imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay) and infiltrate al-Qaeda to learn of a planned strike. Dark-skinned Martin looks like Khan and speaks his language, but he still must convince true believers that he is indeed one of them, anxious to make up for time wasted in prison.

Place, manners, and customs ring true, including a description of the November, 2001, battle to recapture Fort Qala-i-Jangi in northern Afghanistan, highlighting the role of six British Special Boat Service soldiers: Forsyth traveled to Kabul, Islamabad, and Peshawar to collect precise details to bring his story to life. Therein, al-Qaeda plots to bomb world leaders meeting aboard an ocean liner. Their method is to steal and change the shape and name of a small ship, then explode it near the ocean liner outside New York Harbor.

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