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The Fist of Mike,
This review is from: The Afghan (Hardcover)
Frederick Forsyth was early attracted to a life of adventure and eschews psychological complexity in favor of meticulous plotting, based on detailed factual research. His books are full of information about the technical details of such subjects as money laundering, gun running and identity theft. His novels read like investigative journalism in fictional guise and his research has often caused headaches for governments. His moral vision is a harsh one: the world is made up of predators and prey, and only the strong survive. The novels he wrote in the 1970s, particularly "The Day of the Jackal" or "The Odessa File" can be considered not only as his best work, but as the best that was written in this genre.
In his latest novel "The Afghan," one of the bodyguards of a senior Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan makes a stupid mistake and uses the cell phone of his boss. The cell phone is on a "wanted" list and alarm bells go off. The cell is traced, a raid is mounted and the mystery begins. A single reference to an episode in the Koran alarms the CIA and intelligence agencies around the world. Apparently, a disastrous Al Qaeda attack on the West, termed al-Isra (the enlightenment of Muhammad) is planned. Yet, the services don't know the what, when and where. They also don't have any informers inside Al Qaeda. Enter British special forces colonel, Mike Martin - Forsyth readers will recognize him from "The Fist of God." As Martin is physically able to pass for an Arab, is familiar with Afghanistan and has a near-perfect command of the Pashtun language, he is tasked to pose as a hardcore Taliban fighter who has been held in custody for five years. His job is to infiltrate the highest ranks of Al Qaeda and to investigate the secret of the Koranic reference. After careful training, he is to impersonate The Afghan, a Taliban leader held prisoner in Guantánamo.
Forsyth weaves a tapestry of events and characters spanning Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia. An act of high seas piracy here, a fraud in London there, an ambitious intelligence analyst spots a small detail, a dhow pulls into a Dubai port - Forsyth builds block by block a true thriller.
As an avid Forsyth reader I am used to his factual research, but this time he got a little sloppy, there are couple of major mistakes and numerous minor ones. I would expect him to know that Chivas Regal is not a `single malt' but a well known `blended Scotch.' But then I agree with Mark Twain who said, "Never let the facts destroy a good story."
Forsyth's name doesn't attract the crowds as it did during the Cold War but this novel is certainly more realistic and suspenseful than most other post-9/11 action thrillers.