Frederick Forsyth's The Afghan
One of my favorite authors came out with his latest book last month. I just got around to reading it the end of last week and finished it today.
Before starting with my comments, I warn readers there are plot spoilers in this post. If you haven't read the book, you may want to skip the rest of this post.
I've read all of Forsyth's novels. His first, The Day of the Jackal, was the author's best work. Other Forsyth favorites of mine are The Deceiver and The Dogs of War. The later had easily the most surprising ending of any Forsyth book.
Before his latest, Forsyth wrote The Avenger. That book's plot read more like a James Bond movie plot. Namely the bad guy's super protected hideout in South America. There were other implausibilities in the book too, plus some errors that an editor should have caught. Then there have been some in other Forsyth books, but in The Avenger they did harm to the book's plot. At the time I felt this was the weakest book to date from Forsyth.
The Afghan has several major problems. One of which is the book is padded. Early on, Forsyth goes into a lengthy narrative about the life of the book's main character, former SAS Colonel Mike Martin. Martin is the first major character from a Forsyth to feature in two books. The Fist of God was primarily about Martin set during the first Gulf War.
In The Afghan, Forsyth repeats much of Martin's background word for word from the first book. This wasn't necessary in TFM's opinion. Then we also get Martin's life story, which I feel with t he exception of his time in Afghanistan in the 80's, was totally unnecessary for this book's plot. Trimming this down could have easily shortened the book by 10 pages.
The worst padding is the entire sequence involving a fighter jet and its eventual crash that enables a CIA prisoner to escape. This is so implausible, A fighter not even destined for this remote place, just happens to crash on a hideout. What was Forsyth thinking of? You cut out this subplot the book loses another about 15 pages.
That's 25 pages in a book that was only 343 to start with. A few other trims could have been made.
All that said, the biggest problem with the book is the ending. The plot of the novel is about an Al Qaeda plot and Mike Martin's attempt to stop it by going undercover as a Afghan. All well and good. The operation is seaborne involving a freighter containing liquified petroleoum. Al Qaeda plans to get the freighter close enough to The Queen Mary 2(Where the G8 summit is being hosted) and then spark an explosion that will incinerate the ship and all on board.
With some 80 pages to go in the book the good guys find out an attack is to come from the sea. They also suspect the use of liquified petroleoum but don't know the target. Would anyone then allow a vessel, even one that is supposedly legitimate, to get that close to the QM2?
Forsyth thinks so. This comes after reading in the previous 50 or so pages how some ships were being searched before being allowed to approach the US coastline. Would a Navy Cruiser(There are two escorting the QM2) really allow a ship, disabled or not(In the book the ship claims to be under repair) to become that close to the QM2 without first checking it out by sending some men on board? You don't think so either I'm guessing, therefore Forsyth's ending is preposterous.
There's also a whopping geographical error that ruins the ending. The AQ ship originated in Java and was headed to Baltimore. The QM2 sails from a Brooklyn peer bound for Southhamptom. Why would the freighter be anywhere near the QM2? The QM2 wouldn't be going anywhere near the Chesapeake.
If as Forsyth writes, the final scene taking place near Long Island, then the US Cruiser would even have more reason to suspect the freighter. What would a ship bound for Baltimore be doing near Long Island?
Forsyth has made geography errors before in his books, The Deceiver and The Avenger. An author probably doesn't travel to all the locales he writes about(I write fiction on the internet and have often placed stories where I've never been to or only rarely visited in my life), and does research instead. The thing is, have an editor double check what you're writing. Forsyth's earlier geographical mistakes didn't do anywhere near the harm the one in The Afghan
The Afghan's ending destroys what was an otherwise an ok fast paced book. After this and The Avenger, I'm not sure if I look forward to any further works from an author I have much enjoyed till now.
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