(reviewed by Judi Clark MAY 15, 2004)
Yugoslav was breaking up. Milosevic posed as the man to save the union, but he made no mention that he intended to do this through genocide, known as "ethnic cleansing."
Calvin Dexter is a moderately successful lawer in a small New Jersey town. As the novel opens he is in the midst of a triatholon style training excercise. He is not, though, training for any particular event. Just staying in shape waiting for the right ad in the right magazine -- one asking for a call from Avenger. When he does see it, he hangs the proverbial "gone fishing" sign out and disappears for a few days or weeks, as long as it takes.
Calvin seeks justice. He settles scores. He is right fixing wrong.
This time the sponsor, a wealthy Canadian, asks him to learn the details and find whomever was responsible for killing his only grandson. In 1995, Ricky Colenso went to Bosnia to volunteer to help distribute food to the people of a civil war torn nation. He never returned, never begin his freshman semester or fulfilled his promising life. He had the unfortunate experience of running into one of Slobodan Milosevic's most ruthless enforcers.
Dexter does diligent investigations and retraces the events leading up to Ricky's death. He also learns that his murderer, Zoran Zilic, left Yugoslavia and is hiding out somewhere in the world. As Avenger closes in on Zilic, C.I.A. agent Paul Devereaux becomes more and more concerned. Devereaux's expertise is the Middle East. Even though the government does not entirely see the importance of events going on there, Devereaux understands the trouble brewing. And he has made a deal with the proverbial devil to stop another awful man, code name "Usama." Devereaux can not afford to have Zilic killed. Did I mention that all these events take place prior to September 11, 2001?
As one should expect from Forsyth, he weaves in as many real characters and events as fictional. In this novel, he describes the rat tunnels in Vietnam, where a special kind of soldier, would "strip down to thin cotton pants and with pistol, knife, and torch, go down into that pitch-black, stinking, claustrophobic labyrinth of narrow passages with no known exit and kill the waiting Vietcong in their own lair." Naturally our man Dexter is one such soldier.
A good chuck of the plot revolves around providing an understanding of the atrocities of the Serbian-Croatian civil war and the people doing the dirty work for Milosovec, particulary Zoran Zilic. This sets us up for the part of the story that does not involve Avenger. The fact that Devereaux is going against the administration's mandate to not use bad guys in the gathering of intelligence information. Thus, while Avenger is either setting up to kill Zilic or bring him to justice (Avenger has learned that just plain killing isn't as sweet a revenge), Devereaux is working to keep Zilic alive and unexposed. And he's working against a fast approaching deadline. The final showdown is as good as any in this genre.
Forsyth is not a literary writer. His style is more of the "this happened, and then that happened." He delves into each character's history explaining their strengths, weakness and general motivation. Personally I was surprised to find myself thinking these thoughts because I had held the notion for years that Forsyth was a much "better" writer. The thing is, it is this style that allows the reader to grasp and retain some of the most complex political and military information. It is why I could read The Fist of God and feel smart enough to follow it. The other thing that you won't get from this book is a lot of innuedos about the gray areas of good and bad. Well maybe a little. The fact that the Avenger's version of justice butts right into the Deveraux's plan for dealing with the "smaller evil to obtain the greater good," is about as deep as the book is going to get. But it is enough to get a discussion going. Well maybe not, but it does make for some good subversive action scenes.
One more note on reading this book. When I read The Fist of God, the Gulf War had been over for a few years. Although I was glued to the radio on my commute to work and then again on the way home throughout the short war, my knowledge and even my political opionion was thin. I basically trusted my newsman to give it to me straight. I trusted my president as well. Thus reading The Fist of God was an enlightening and amazing read, Forsyth had so much insight into the behind-the-scenes politics and and maneuverings that I couldn't imagine how he knew what he did. But times have changed and I am older and trying to be wiser. Then again, so is (hopefully) our nation. While reading Avenger, the 911 Commissions are in full swing and one book after another is being published telling us the true events and motivations that led us into declaring a preemptive war on Iraq. So it was with keen interest that I read Forsyth's passenges on the Clinton and Bush administrations foreign policies. Interestingly enough, Forsyth is quite bi-partisan in his political navigations, nothing appeared wrong nor offensive (not that I agreed with the character's points of view). But it also didn't hold the same revelation that The Fist of God offered me. This is not the same kind of great novel, but I also don't think Forsyth is slacking. I am no longer a passive recipient of news and I see how easily it is to have the inside scoop by paying attention to the details. And now that I think of it, that's what Forsyth holds over the reader, he never lets any detail go unplotted.
- Amazon readers rating: from 130 reviews
"The Fist of God"
(reviewed by Judi Clark MAY 30, 1998)
The Fist of God is set behind the scenes of the 1991 Allied-Iraqi Gulf War. Forsyth has a reputation for thoroughly researching his subject matter, for including good technical detail and finally, for his knack of weaving real people into the plots. And it works, because we are presented with a recap of the Gulf War in a very digestible format. Believe me, I am no war buff, so I enjoy Forsyth's technique.
Carl and I were lucky enough to find our copy of The Fist of God abandoned at a Laundromat on Cape Cod. Otherwise, I doubt I would have picked up the book on my own. But it surprised me how readable it was and how quickly that I was pulled into the story.
- Amazon reader rating: from 92 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Biafra Story (1969)
- The Day of the Jackal (1971)
- No Comebacks: Collected Stories (1972)
- The Odessa File (1972)
- The Dogs of War (1974)
- The Shepherd (1975)
- The Devil's Alternative (1979)
- Emeka (1982)
- The Fourth Protocol (1984)
- The Negotiator (1989)
- The Navigator (1989)
- The Deceiver (1991)
- The Fist of God (1994)
- Icon (1996)
- The Phantom of Manhattan (1999)
- The Veteran (2001)
- Avenger (2003)
- The Afghan (2006)
- The Cobra (2010)
- The Kill List (August 2013
Movies from books:
- The Day of the Jackal (1973)
- The Odessa File (1974)
- Dogs of War (1981)
- The Fourth Protocol (1987)
- The Jackal (1997)
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- Official Frederick Forsyth website
- Wikipedia page on Frederick Forsyth
- Unofficial Frederick Forsyth website
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About the Author:
Frederick Forsyth writes adventure novels based on real events in international affairs. Originally he was a journalist. He won the Edgar Award for The Day of the Jackal in 1972.
This British author was born in 1938 in Ashford, Kent, England. and was educated at Tonbridge school, and later Granada University, Spain. Frederick Forsyth qualified for a pilot's licence a few days after his seventeenth birthday and thus signed on in the RAF and gained his wings when he was nineteen, becoming the youngest pilot in the Air Force. He serviced in the RAF from 1956 to 1958.
For the next three and a half years he worked as a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press in Norfolk, before becoming a correspondant for Reuters in 1961, first in Paris, at the age of twenty-three, which provided the information for The Day of the Jackal and then in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, locations which provided him enabled him to compile the dossier about Nazis still in high-ranking positions in Germany which was the controversial feature of The Odessa File.
Returning to London in 1965, he worked as a radio and television reporter for the BBC. As assistant diplomatic correspondent, he covered the Biafran side of the Biafra-Nigeria war from July to September 1967, and this provided him with knowledge of international politics, and the world of mercenary soldiers, hence The Dogs of War. It was this work and related research that interested him with historical truth. In 1968 he left the BBC to return to Biafra, and he reported on the war, first as a freelance and later for the Daily Express and Time magazine. This gave him the material for his only non-fiction work, The Biafra Story,
In 1970, after nine years of an intense journalistic career, he decided to write a book using the research methods he had learnt while a reporter. This book, The Day of the Jackal, became an instant success.
Forsyth speaks fluent French, German and Spanish, and has travelled widely in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.