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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 12 May 2005
"The Devil's Alternative" is a spy thriller from the end of the 1970's. The story pits the Russian leader (modeled somewhat on Leonid Brezhnev) against the American President (modeled somewhat on Lyndon Johnson) in a world crisis situation. At the same time the story is very European in that it is the British who just happen to have a spy with access to the Russian Politburo meetings. Also, most of the scenes that do not take place in the White House or the Kremlin take place in Europe.
The story is very exciting, although somewhat unrealistic. As usual, the good guys are trying to prevent World War III while the "hawks" in both the Kremlin and the White House can hardly wait to get going. The ending is somewhat contrived but on the whole the book is a very good read.
For someone reading this book nowadays it seems rather dated because of the huge changes in the world political and military situation since the 1970's. This can be considered either negative or positive depending on whether you are interested in the history of this era.
The differences between then and now are amazing. At that time the Soviet Union and Russia were a world superpower. Eastern Europe was communist, Germany was divided, and West Berlin was an isolated non-communist island in communist East Germany. The major political and military conflict in the world was the efforts of the communist countries to try to convert the whole world to communism and the efforts of the non-communist countries to prevent this from happening.
All of the above facts play a major role in this story, so an understanding of the situation then being different from the situation now is brought forcefully home to the reader.
There is an interesting passage in "The Devil's Alternative": "One day, maybe not too long from now, the Russian empire will begin to crack. One day soon, the Romanians will exercise their patriotism, and the Poles and Czechs. Followed by the Germans and Hungarians. And the Balts and Ukrainians, the Georgians and Armenians. The Russian empire will crack and crumble, the way the Roman and British empires cracked, because at last the arrogance of their mandarins became insufferable." (Page 410 in the paperback edition I read.)
Was Frederick Forsyth perceptive in writing this, or just lucky? My memory of that era is that not many people would have agreed with that prediction at that time.
What about the plot? In a book like "The Devil's Alternative" the plot is not so important - it is a vehicle for the characters to play out their conflict, and Frederick Forsyth is good at creating interesting characters who play out an interesting conflict.
Some parts of the story are somewhat unrealistic. In particular, the ending is rather contrived and some of the technical details about the fictitious world's largest supertanker strike me as very improbable. It is because of these various problems with the realism that I'm giving "The Devil's Alternative" four stars instead of five.
But for the most part the story is realistic enough for us to suspend our disbelief and let ourselves get excited, and even scared of the possible consequences of things going wrong. That's what makes this one of Frederick Forsyth's better books, and I can recommended it, especially if you want to relive the world political and military situation at the height of the cold war.
Rennie Petersen
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VINE VOICEon 30 October 2003
Forsyth has been noted for the detail and realism his books convey. I realised how true this was while watching the news and having just been reading this book on the train home, I suddenly realised I was waiting for news on the events in this book. I think this shows how involved I had become in the story.

On top of the extraordinary but believable storyline, is a good writer at work. Throughout my reading I had seen one nagging drawback to an otherwise brilliant tale. In order not to give anything away, all I can say is that I thought it was a bit biased. However as the book reaches its conclusion, with a superb twist, the idea dawns that you've been lead up the garden path, by a skilled author who can give you more than a stunning narrative.
Having read the majority of his books I would recommend any of them, but this one is especially good.
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on 24 April 2016
Effectively 3 stories in one set in the cold war period- but as the author says at the end of the tale- within a short while after the end of the cold war the West was caught up with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Gripped from beginning to end
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on 20 April 2015
I'm reading this novel for a second time and I think I'm enjoying it even more than the first time.......my " rule of thumb " for a good book.....
" would I read it twice.......Yes, yes and yes again.......end of review......incidentally it about an almighty tussle between the two suoer powers,
with an independant spanner thrown in to spice things up.......read it you'll enjoy it
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on 13 March 2016
A little slow to start as all of the characters and story elements are introduced, this book then shows the tangled web of world politics during the latter part of the Cold War.
The characters are so believable that the interaction of the story lines on each other draws the reader into an understanding of the knife edge of diplomacy.
A fabulous read that will be enjoyed by any lover of political thrillers but particularly those who lived through the early 80s and can reflect on real life characters and events.
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First read this year's ago, now read again on my Kindle. As Greg on Master Chef might say "story telling just doesn't get any better".
Frederick Forsyth is the Grand Master of story telling and this tale of world politics, espionage and terrorism stands with the best. Easily believable, well researched and a joy to read. The twist at the end is classic.
Trust me - you won't regret downloading this one.
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on 31 July 2013
In my opinion this is Forsyth atr his very best. Very well researched with snippets of recent history help to make the whole seem
absolutely authentic. Once started you will not want to put this novel down.asit is completel absorbing from beginning ro the
very end wich contains an astonishing surprise..
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on 3 February 2014
It is obvious that a lot of effort has gone into the research for this book, but whether it was worthwhile I am not too sure. After masses of information and complex characterisation, one is left with what is only really a routine thriller with not a lot of originality. It is fast moving, easy to read and if you are waiting for your plane or train go for it, but if you want an original stimulating read, try something else.
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on 9 November 2012
Classic early Forsyth, brilliantly researched and incredibly detailed. The story starts with a series of seemingly completely unconnected events which then slowly come together in a way you couldn't have imagined, until the US President is presented with The Devil's Alternative. The solution, the final twist, is brutal and totally unexpected. The politics may be a little difficult for the younger generation, but I was around during the Cold War, and this book is a Cold War classic. Brilliant.
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on 4 November 2014
true to Forsyth's style of writing .Hugely entertaining and thought provoking.His novels seem to me make many authors efforts in this genre somewhat weak and watery. I think it must be due to his training and experiance as a news corespondent and combatent that gives a reader the feeling that he or she is reading a report of an event rather than a "tale" .
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