Forsyth, Frederick 1938–
Forsyth, a novelist and journalist, is best known for The Odessa File and The Day of the Jackal.
"The Day of the Jackal" was a taut if occasionally long-winded thriller in which the assassin's beat-the-clock planning meshed excitingly with the book's action. "The Dogs of War" force-marches the reader through more than 300 pages of mercenary "Cat" Shannon's preparations to take over a platinum-rich African country, Zangaro, for a rapacious English mining magnate—only to reach a climax that lies there like lead.
It may be that Frederick Forsyth has got himself stoned on the "Mission Impossible" formula, in which technical know-how substitutes for substance. So much of "Dogs" is concerned with the washing of illicit funds in Brussels and Zurich, the setting up of dummy companies and funny-money dodges, the bribing of gunrunners and government officials with cash and contracts, that the novel gets lost in the intricate shuffle of paper work. (pp. 68-9)
S. K. Oberbeck, "Straw Dogs," in Newsweek (copyright 1974 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), July 22, 1974, pp. 68-9.
The Dogs of War, like The Day of the Jackal, is ingeniously plotted, an impressive blend of fact and fiction, written in tight, lucid, masculine prose. In The Day of the Jackal we learned, step by step, how to go about knocking off a chief of state. In this one, we learn in equally fine detail how to acquire the personnel, the arms, and the logistical support necessary to invade an African nation. It's a complicated process, and it gets just a bit heavy two-thirds of the way through, but few novelists writing today have Forsyth's flair for building suspense by piling up relatively mundane details.
The Dogs of War is a first-rate thriller, with a beautifully handled opening set in Biafra and a satisfying, though slightly stagy, conclusion. The only real problem is one of characterization. Many of Forsyth's mercenaries are relatively trite figures, their motivation insufficiently explained. And this is a shame, for there is no more interesting and enigmatic group of men. (p. 880)
John R. Coyne, Jr., in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1974; 150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), August 2, 1974.
Like Robinson Crusoe,… The Dogs of War pays tribute to the skilful management of complex affairs: both novels interest you in process, and Forsyth's novel, like Defoe's, is besotted on the detailed processes of capitalist enterprise. And reading either is corrupting, because you're encouraged to believe that with money all things are possible, and that this is enviably acceptable and proper. The large sums of money freely flashed all over Forsyth's fiction effect a kind of hypnosis. But, in the end, he fails to be as thoroughgoing as Defoe, and bids finally for redemption with a surprising bet-hedging dodge. Shannon [the protagonist], the epilogue reveals, knew all along that he had lung-cancer and only a few months to live—and so is turned into that tomorrow-we-die desperado-cum-epicurean figure of less interesting and more usual fictions…. This … does nothing, though, to minimise the novel's consistent and protracted celebration of the power of money—not to mention Shannon's own persistence in earning fat wages precisely at the hands of the profiteers. (p. 389)
Valentine Cunningham, in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), September 20, 1974.