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Classics > Frederick Forsyth. One of the greatest thriller writers of all time?

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message 1: by Samuel (last edited Aug 08, 2015 02:27PM) (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (did review on this)

Forsyth. A legend. An author who in his old age (late 70's) still has the cojones to venture into Somalia as a research trip for the book he's writing (Called The Kill List. Currently on sale)

Now, my question is this. When it comes to influencing the nature of the thriller genre along with the writing process of those who came after him, could it be said that Forsyth is the greatest thriller writer of all?

Let me clarify.

Mr Forsyth is perhaps the first author to fully utilize real world details into his books to an extraordinary extent which had not been equaled by those before him. And afterwards he set the bar for others like Clancy, Flynn and Thor to try and emulate him.

Then there's the element he introduced into the writing process. Research. Developing sources, finding experts to consult and taking trips to the settings you wanted to include. Many of the current crop of spy/military/political fiction authors have their own confidential sources on speed-dial to feed them bits of information in the same way Forsyth made friends with criminals, mercenary soldiers and the close protection detail of De Gaulle who gave him the knowledge base which factored into his work.

And finally, in a shared achievement he might share with LeCarre, Forsyth is one of the authors who in the post Ian Fleming world helped add some decent moral ambiguity and amoral creations into the genre which had been resolutely dominated by classic black and white morality.

So, when it comes to the well researched thriller (spy/military/geopolitical) due to being the pioneer of it, and influencing a legion of future writers unwittingly from a technical standpoint, could Frederick Forsyth be considered one of the great, or the great thriller writer of the 20th century?


message 2: by David (new)

David Samuel wrote: "The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (did review on this)

Forsyth. A legend. An author who in his old age (late 70's) still has the cojones to venture into Somalia as a research trip for the ..."


I could not agree more. I had a recent thread asking who else writes like FF. few match him, if any, In my opinion. I even have several of his unread books as I am saving them to have a few great reads in my future.


message 3: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Breaking news. If this is true, it does explain a lot about the content of his work. SIS officer/asset? He did have the sort of cover an intelligence officer dreams of. http://www.independent.ie/entertainme...


message 4: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Amazon link to the autobiography
http://www.amazon.com/The-Outsider-My...


message 5: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments What is it with British writers and the SIS? Do authors make good intelligence gatherers?


message 6: by Sirius (new)

Sirius Alexander (Sirius_Alexander) | 40 comments I guess they don't necessarily make good intelligence officers but have the greatest cover story. Who else gets to move around the world at will whilst "working" except maybe commercial pilots. But they don't get to choose their destinations like an author or freelance journalist does.


message 7: by Samuel (last edited Aug 30, 2015 11:24PM) (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments 'We all make mistakes, but starting the Third World War would have been a rather large one. To this day, I still maintain it was not entirely my fault. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

During the course of my life, I’ve barely escaped the wrath of an arms dealer in Hamburg, been strafed by a MiG during the Nigerian civil war, and landed during a bloody coup in Guinea-Bissau. The Stasi arrested me, the Israelis regaled me, the IRA prompted a quick move from Ireland to England, and a certain attractive Czech secret police agent – well, her actions were a bit more intimate. And that’s just for starters.

All of that I saw from the inside. But all that time I was, nonetheless, an outsider.'

- Frederick Forsyth, The Outsider: My Life Of Intrigue.


message 8: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin | 207 comments You certainly have to respect a man like that, along with his works.


message 9: by Samuel (last edited Aug 31, 2015 01:24PM) (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Michel wrote: "You certainly have to respect a man like that, along with his works."

Indeed. Before the internet he was pushing the boundaries of what a thriller novel was and could be.


message 10: by David (new)

David Samuel wrote: "Michel wrote: "You certainly have to respect a man like that, along with his works."

Indeed. Before the internet he was pushing the boundaries of what a thriller novel was and could be."

.Put that together with his great writing ability and......well, one of the best of all time at least IMHO anyway.


message 11: by Samuel (last edited Aug 31, 2015 05:04PM) (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Michel wrote: "You certainly have to respect a man like that, along with his works."

Journalist. Novelist. Spy.
He joins the club of British writers employed by the SIS. Unlike the others however who got pretty cushy jobs, he confirms he was an asset running around Africa and the Eastern Bloc. Payment? Information. Which he used in his books. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celeb...


message 12: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Video interview. In depth. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment...


message 13: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Interview by the man. Regarding among other topics, his age. Last of the pioneer generation of thriller fiction writers. http://www.thebookseller.com/insight/...


message 14: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Most people have a problem with the various organs of the British intelligence community, typified by a seeming inability to work out which is which. There are three main organs. The least-mentioned is the biggest: Government Communications Headquarters, (GCHQ) based in a vast doughnut-shaped complex outside Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Its task is mainly signals intelligence. Alongside GCHQ is the Security Service or MI5. Its task is in-country security against foreign espionage, foreign and domestic terrorism and home-grown treachery. The one regarded as the more glamorous is the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), usually referred to by a title it renounced years ago as MI6. Those inside the SIS call it the Office; those outside use the phrase the Firm, and the staffers of the Firm are the Friends. Not to be confused with the CIA, which is the Agency or the Company, its staff are the Cousins.
There is often confusion between the Secret Service and the Security Service, but everyone remotely concerned is universally described by those on the outside with another misnomer, that of “spy”. The true spy is almost certainly a foreigner employed deep inside the clandestine fabric of his own country who is prepared to abstract his country’s covert information and hand it over to his real employers.
The go-between is called an “asset” and the full-time employee who runs him is his “handler”. There is the relatively new nomenclature of “spook” but I never heard the word “spy” used within that world. Only newspapers and television use it, usually wrongly.
In late 1968 I was sought out by a member of the Firm called Ronnie. He made no bones about what he was and we hit it off. There are times in your life when you meet someone and in short order decide that he is a thoroughly decent fellow and you can trust him. If you are ever deceived in this later, it is like a hot dagger.
Ronnie was an orientalist with good Mandarin but to his bewilderment had been made head of the Africa desk. He admitted he knew little about Africa and less about what was really going on inside Biafra, the breakaway eastern region of Nigeria that was at war with the central government.
What he did know was that I had reported from Biafra for the BBC — and had resigned after it banned me from going back there for refusing to toe the British Establishment’s dishonest official line on the conflict. Since then I had been reporting on the war as a freelance. Before first going to Biafra, I had been given a minutely detailed briefing by a man from the West African Service of Bush House, the famed BBC World Service, the official voice of Britain.
The east, he said, was the homeland overwhelmingly of the Ibo people, whose collective character was long-term trouble­some. On a spurious basis and led by the military governor of the region, a self-serving rogue called Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, they had declared secession from the very fine republic of Nigeria. Its head of state, the marvellous Colonel Yakubu Gowon, had no choice but to use the federal army to reconquer the east, which was styling itself the Republic of Biafra.
When I reached Enugu, the Biafran capi­tal, and recounted this briefing to the British deputy high commissioner, Jim Parker, who was stationed there and was steeped in knowledge of the country, he listened grim-faced and then put his face in his hands.
The reason became clear as he explained to me what was really going on. Every word I had been given was complete and utter garbage, but it was the official view of Harold Wilson’s government. When I subse­quently reported the truth back to London, I was accused of bias.
By the time Ronnie approached me, after 15 months of the Nigeria-Biafra ­conflict, the Nigerian army was being ­quietly equipped with torrents of British weaponry, shipped out covertly by the Wilson government, which was assuring one and all that it was neutral.
But a debate was beginning and was made more intense by the torrent of ­hideous pictures showing Biafran babies reduced to barely alive skeletons. Public marches were start­ing in London; notable ­figures were protesting.
The debate might be at a very high level and in complete secrecy but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which backed the Nigerian government, was fighting a rearguard action for the minds of the vacillating Wilson government.
I think Ronnie and I spent about 20 hours over several days while I explained how bad things were: children were now dying like flies. Had I not trusted his word, I would never have agreed to what came next.
THE task of SIS is foreign information-gathering and its presence is worldwide, with a “station” somewhere in almost all British embassies and ­sometimes ­consulates. Basically, it seeks to discover and forewarn.
Politicians are wont to sneer when in opposition but drool with pleasure when, in office, they are taken to a quiet room to explained to them what is really going on rather than what they thought was going on.
Politicians loathe being taken by ­surprise, but forewarning depends on knowing what the bad people are planning, are intending or have in mind. As that is rarely given away, it has to be discovered clandestinely. Hence the espionage.
This broadly devolves into three ­categories: electronic intelligence or Elint, the scouring of the surface of the world with look-down cameras in ­satellites, drones or warplanes; signals intelligence, Sigint, intercepting everything the bad people say to each other even when they think they have absolute privacy; and Humint, or human intelligence-gathering.
Britain has never been able to compete with the vast budgets of the United States and has no space programme, but it brings to the table a worthwhile contribution in Humint. Infiltrating an agent into the heart of a tricky situation can produce more product than all the gizmos could ever see or hear. It is the speciality of the SIS.
Considering the 60 million-plus population of the UK and the size of its gross national product, it has always had a smaller SIS than almost any other developed nation in the world — and thus cheaper. The British taxpayer is far from shortchanged. There is a quixotic reason for this. Unlike all other agencies, the Firm has always been able to rely on an ad hoc army of volunteers ­prepared to help out if asked nicely.
They come from a vast array of professions that cause them to travel a bit. They may agree while on a foreign visit for business purposes to pick up a package, deliver a letter to a hole in a tree, make a payment or just keep their eyes and ears open and undergo a cheer­ful debrief­ing when they get home.
It appears a bit weird but it seems to work.
This is because the best “cover” in the world is no cover at all but the truth. Thus if Mr Farnsbarns really is going to a trade fair to sell his paper clips, he might just slip into a phone booth, remove a letter from the pages of the telephone direc­tory and bring it home in an invisible slit in a specially ­prepared briefcase.
That is where the economics comes in: it is not done for money but just to help “the old country”. Few nations can match that.
Technically the SIS comes under the FCO but is entitled to disagree in certain circumstances, specifically if it has factual information rather than mere opinion. Ronnie’s problem was that he had no ­specific eyes-on information from the heart of Biafra to offset the assurances coming through from Lagos to the effect that the horrors were grossly exaggerated and the war would in any case be over in a very short time.
I did what I did to try to influence the Whitehall argument that continued intermittently for the next 15 months until the final crushing of Biafra with 1 million dead children. The argument was between: “Prime minister, this cannot be allowed to go on. The human cost is simply too high. We should reconsider our policy. We should use all our influence to urge a ceasefire, a peace conference and a political solution.”
And: “Prime minister, I can assure you the media reports are as usual sensationalist and grossly exaggerated. We have information that the rebel regime is very close to collapse. The sooner it does, the sooner we can get columns of relief food into the rebel territory. Meanwhile we urge you to stick with the hitherto agreed policy and even increase the support for the ­federal government.”
Neither Ronnie nor I could know in October 1968 how long there was to go nor how many more were to die. But the ­argument for a ceasefire lost for two reasons: the vanity factor and the ­cowardice factor.
It is said that if a tigress sees her cubs endangered she will fight with deranged passion to defend them. But her dedication pales into submission compared with the fury with which senior civil servants, and most notably those of the FCO, will defend the fiction that they cauld not have made a mistake.
The cowardice applied as usual to the politicians, Wilson and his foreign secretary, Michael Stewart. Basically it was: “Prime minister, if you concede to the ‘reconsidered’ argument, you would have to admit that for 15 months, your government has made a mistake. How then do you reply to the media question, ‘How can you explain to the public the quarter-million children dead so far?’ ”
At that point, the response from Wilson and Stewart was: “Very well, do what you feel you must. But be hurry.”
So the military, advisory, diplomatic and propa­ganda help to the Lagos ­dictatorship ­quietly increased. Ronnie convinced me that the Firm might be able to win the argument if it could rebut the charge of media exaggeration with eyes-on evidence that the situation was as reported or worse.
But to do that, he needed an asset deep inside the, Biafran enclave, what he termed ‘someone in on the ground’. When I left for the return to the rainforest, he had one.
The job was threefold. To report, through the various newspapers and maga­zines that had accepted me as a “stringer” (a local correspondent on a non-staff basis) the military war as it crawled on its way.
To use the same outlets to portray the humanitarian situation, the disaster among the children dying of kwashiorkor (protein deficiency) and the church-based efforts to keep them alive with an air bridge of illicit mercy flights bringing in relief food donated by the rest of the world. The third task was to keep Ronnie informed of things that could not, for ­various reasons, emerge in the media. Just once, things became sticky when a rumour spread that I was working for London. Had the suspicion developed, my situation might have become thoroughly tiresome.
I discovered the source was a German mercenary, Rolf Steiner, with whom I had never been on the best of terms. He was ex-Deutsches Jungvolk (a sort of Hitler youth), ex-Foreign Legion and was the leader of a small group of white ­mercenaries working for the Biafrans. He postured and paraded around in his ­confiscated American limousine, but I never recall him going into combat.
There was nothing for it but to have a word in the right ear. Two nights later, ­yelling and screaming, not a happy camper, with his hands roped behind him, Steiner was bundled onto a plane and never returned.
A DOZEN years after the Biafra war I found myself in a London bar with a long-term veteran of the SAS regiment. Out of the blue he remarked: “You owe me a large one.” If someone like that tells you he is owed a drink, do not argue. Just go to the bar and buy him a double. So I did. When he had taken a deep draught I asked him why. “Because,” he said, “I once had your head in the cross-hairs of my scope sight and I didn’t pull the trigger.” Rumours had long persisted that part of London’s help to Lagos had been the presence of our special forces. Political denial had always been shrill. The only time my contentedly sipping bar friend could have seen me was deep inside Biafra. So much for denials"- Frederick Forsyth.


message 15: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments In other news, the authorized biography of David Cornwell is about to be released.


message 16: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments The Outsider My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth

Finished reviewing his autobiography in a somewhat rambling fashion. Good stuff. I recommend it.


message 17: by Feliks, Moderator (last edited May 28, 2016 06:19PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1128 comments Mod
I once wrote a long piece in which I explicated how the film version bungled the handling of the Jackals' "last laugh". Its perhaps the one annoying item in the flick and which doesn't exist in the novel. In the film, (perhaps it was a hobson's choice) but there are scenes which display his passport trickery --but it's ONLY for the sake of leading us down a blind path. What the film posits makes no logical sense; its merely a visual crutch to ensure the audience gets the 'reveal' at the end. It comes down to one shot: when the Jackal is sitting in a comfy sofa doing his homework, it 'looks like' Calthrope's apartment. But at flick's end, we know that this Charles Calthrope was not the identity ever relied on by the Jackal; the whole idea that he was Calthrope was false and wrong. He had no relationship to this particular Calthrope played by actor Edward Hardwicke. So why do the screenwriters ever suggest he was ever in Calthrope's apartment? The film was forced to do it this way, maybe--and simply hope no one would stub their toe over it.

But I love this movie. Love it to pieces.

Musing today how wonderful Alan Badel (veteran Brit actor) handled his acting duties as the minister of the Interior. Or whatever he was. Leader of DeGaulle's inner council. You remember how --for most of the film--he treats Inspector Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) as a lackey and underling. But at the end of the movie--in perhaps what is the best emotional scene of the entire movie--he brings Lebel alone into his private office to admit defeat and despair. He treats Lebel to the privilege of a man-to-man audience with his feelings.

He is a beaten man. He knows that all his efforts have failed and that they cannot stop the hit from being carried out.

These European actors were handled so well by Fred Zinneman.


message 18: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Feliks wrote: "I once wrote a long piece in which I explicated how the film version bungled the handling of the Jackals' "last laugh". Its perhaps the one annoying item in the flick and which doesn't exist in the..."

Indeed. Speaking of which, As of now, Mr Forsyth is a retired novelist and semi-retired newspaper columnist. His memoir is his last book and he has stated that he wishes to spend more time with his grandchildren and conduct the odd philanthropic project for British veteran charities.


message 19: by Samuel (new)

Samuel  | 647 comments Feliks wrote: "I once wrote a long piece in which I explicated how the film version bungled the handling of the Jackals' "last laugh". Its perhaps the one annoying item in the flick and which doesn't exist in the..."

Forsyth related a funny story in "The Outsider" where he took Edward Fox to Paris. Preparation work for the actor. They met a bona-fide French contract killer/vigilante. Hilarity ensured when Mr Fox realized what business their party guest was in.


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