The master of the political thriller strikes again.
Strike is a good operative word for the cops and crooks who populate the pages of Forsyth’s latest (The Afghan, 2006, etc.), none of whom is afraid to unleash the dogs of war and hurt a lot of people in the bargain. This time the setting is South America, where an impatient U.S. president has decided to heat things up after it becomes ever clearer that the war on drugs isn’t going so well for his team. Who’s he gonna call? The Cobra, naturally, a spook bad enough to put the fear into anyone who hears the sobriquet. Said Cobra, aka Paul Deveraux, is a tough dude, to be sure, so tough that, says one of the president’s aides, he was fired for being “too ruthless”—against the bad guys that is. Devereaux books on down to Colombia, where he’s got to go up against the baddest guy of all—“educated, courteous, mannerly, drawn from pure Spanish stock, scion of a long line of hidalgos” Don Diego Esteban. In between Cobra and Don stands a small army of lesser players, from a right-hand man who’s thorough but never timid to a Brazilian pilot bent on a kamikaze mission to miscellaneous cannon fodder on five continents. Forsyth’s tale drags a little, particularly compared to his first and as yet unbested masterpiece, The Day of the Jackal (1971), at least in part because he takes time out to explain, at some length, the economics and chemistry (horse tranquilizer, anyone?) of the cocaine trade. All those minor players have to have something to do. Yet in the end this is a battle between titans, and it’s fought to a bloody end amid heaps of bodies and at least a few unanticipated casualties, as far as the reader is concerned.
Forsyth still knows how to spring a surprise. Not his best work, but a taut, readable and swiftly moving tale well suited to the beach and airplane.