English author and occasional political commentator Frederick Forsyth, CBE was born 25 August 1938. He is best known for thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Fourth Protocol, The Dogs of War, The Devil’s Alternative, The Fist of God, Icon, The Veteran, Avenger, The Afghan and The Cobra. The son of a furrier, Forsyth was born in Ashford, Kent. He was educated at Tonbridge School and later attended the University of Granada in Spain. Before becoming a journalist, he joined the RAF and was a jet fighter pilot. He joined Reuters in 1961 and later the BBC in 1965, where he served as an assistant diplomatic correspondent. In a BBC Documentary on the Nigerian Civil War, forsyth reported on his early activities as a journalist. His early career was spent covering French affairs and the attempted assassination of Charles De Gaulle. He had never been to what he termed “black Africa” until reporting on the Nigerian Civil War between Biafra and Nigeria as a BBC correspondent.
He was there for the first six months of 1967, but few expected the war to last very long considering the poor weaponry and preparation of the Biafrans when compared to the British-armed Nigerians. After his six months were over, however, Forsyth – eager to carry on reporting – approached the BBC to ask if he could have more time there. He noted their response:”I was told quite bluntly, then, ‘it is not our policy to cover this war.’ This was a period when the Vietnam War was front-page headlines almost every day, regarded broadly as an American cock-up, and this particularly British cock-up in Nigeria was not going to be covered. I smelt news management. I don’t like news management. So I made a private vow to myself: ‘you may, gentlemen, not be covering it, but I’m going to cover it.’ So I quit and flew out there, and stayed there for most of the next two years.”He thus returned to Biafra as a freelance reporter, writing his first book The Biafra Story, in 1969.
Forsyth decided to write a novel using similar research techniques to those used in journalism. His first full length novel, The Day of the Jackal, was published in 1971. It became an international bestseller and gained its author the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. In this book, the Organisation Armée Secrète (a real-life terrorist group) hires an assassin to kill then-French President Charles de Gaulle. It was made into a film of the same name.In Forsyth’s second full-length novel, The Odessa File (1972), a reporter attempts to track down an ex-Nazi SS officer in modern Germany. The reporter discovers him via the diary of a Jewish Holocaust survivor who committed suicide earlier, but he is being shielded by an organization that protects ex-Nazis, called ODESSA. This book was later made into a movie with the same name, starring Jon Voight, but there were substantial alterations.
In The Dogs of War (1974) a British mining executive hires a group of mercenaries to overthrow the government of an African country so that he can install a puppet regime that will allow him cheap access to a colossal platinum-ore reserve. This book was also adapted to film, in 1981, starring Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger.The Shepherd was an illustrated novella published in 1975. It tells of a nightmare journey by an RAF pilot while flying home for Christmas in the late 1950s. His attempts to find a rational explanation for his eventual rescue prove as troublesome as his experience.Following this came The Devil’s Alternative in 1979, which was set in 1982. In this book, the Soviet Union faces a disastrous grain harvest. The US is ready to help for some political and military concessions. A Politburo faction fight ensues. War is proposed as solution. Ukrainian freedom fighters complicate the situation later. In the end, a Swedish oil tanker built in Japan, a Russian airliner hijacked to West Berlin and various governments find themselves involved.In 1982, No Comebacks, a collection of ten short stories, was published. Some of these stories had been written earlier. Many were set in the Republic of Ireland where Forsyth was living at the time. One of them, There Are No Snakes in Ireland, won him a second Edgar Allan Poe Award, this time for best short story.
The Fourth Protocol was published in 1984 and involves renegade elements within the Soviet Union attempting to plant a nuclear bomb near an American airbase in the UK, intending to influence the upcoming British elections and lead to the election of an anti-NATO, anti-American, anti-nuclear, pro-soviet Labour government. The Fourth Protocol was later filmed, starring Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine, in 1987. Almost all of the political content was removed from the film.Forsyth’s tenth book came in 1989 with The Negotiator, in which the American President’s son is kidnapped and one man’s job is to negotiate his release.Two years later, in 1991, The Deceiver was published. It includes four short stories reviewing the career of British secret agent Sam McCready. At the start of the novel, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State (PUSS) of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office requires the Chief of the SIS to push Sam into early retirement. The four stories are presented to a grievance committee in an attempt to allow Sam to stay on active duty with the SIS.In 1994, Forsyth published The Fist of God, a novel which concerns the first Gulf War. Next, in 1996, he published Icon, about the rise of fascists to power in post-Soviet Russia.
In 1999, Forsyth published The Phantom of Manhattan, a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. It was intended as a departure from his usual genre; Forsyth’s explanation was that “I had done mercenaries, assassins, Nazis, murderers, terrorists, special forces soldiers, fighter pilots, you name it, and I got to think, could I actually write about the human heart?” However, it did not achieve the same success as his other novels, and he subsequently returned to modern-day thrillers. In 2001, The Veteran, another collection of short stories, was published, followed by Avenger, published in September 2003, about a Canadian billionaire who hires a Vietnam veteran to bring his grandson’s killer to the US. Avenger was released as a film starring Sam Elliot and Timothy Hutton. The Afghan, published in August 2006, is an indirect sequel to The Fist of God. Set in the very near future, the threat of a catastrophic assault on the West, discovered on a senior al-Qaeda member’s computer, compels the leaders of the US and the UK to attempt a desperate gambit — to substitute a seasoned British operative, retired Col. Mike Martin (of The Fist of God), for an Afghan Taliban commander being held prisoner at Guantánamo Bay.The Cobra, published in 2010, features some of the characters previously featured in Avenger, and has as its subject an attempt to destroy the world trade in cocaine.