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    Review of THE AFGHAN by Frederick Forsyth (see his website)

    G. P. Putnam's Sons, August 2006

    British intelligence gets lucky when a terrorist bodyguard decides to borrow a cellphone and makes a call home. The call itself doesn't reveal anything, but the cell's location points them toward a major Al Qaeda figure and his laptop provides a tantilizing hint at some major terrorist operation. Governments can't act on hints alone, however. What's needed is a man who can pose as someone that Al Qaeda will trust implicitly, be able to infiltrate their most secret conferences, and who can, ultimately, identify and defuse the threat--whatever it might be.

    Working with the CIA and US D.O.D., intelligence comes up with two men--one a British SAS Colonel whose dark skin and fluent Arabic would let him pass as an Arab or an Afghan (once he develops a proper accent), and an Afghan warlord captured during the battles against the Taliban and housed in Guantanamo Prison. Training and placing the British soldier where he can take up his role will be difficult and costly, but the Al Qaeda plan just might warrant any expense.

    Author Frederick Forsyth (see more reviews of novels by Forsyth) always delivers an intricately plotted novel with plenty of technical details--in this case details on how American and British spycraft operates against terrorist threat, how the supposed 'justice' system for Guantanamo prisoners can be manipulated for political ends, and how Al Qaeda transmits its money, messages, and trust across national boundaries despite being hunted by the police and military forces of just about every nation in the world. THE AFGHAN does an excellent job of letting the reader look over the shoulder of intelligence executives as they attempt to define and defuse a dangerous plot.

    Forsyth's crisp writing and matter-of-fact dealings with death and destruction also adds to the reader's enjoyment. Forsyth's characters are in the business of death. For the most part, they're going about their business.

    Although THE AFGHAN is enjoyable, it's a long way from the top of Forsyth's talent (see for example, our review of THE DAY OF THE JACKAL). Perhaps because we, along with Colonel Mike Martin and British intelligence, don't know what the threat really is until near the end, there isn't a lot of investment in the outcome, or concern about the characters. And for me, the critical twist involving Afghan warlord Izmat Khan and his escape felt artificial--I could practically see Forsyth deciding he needed to crank up the suspense level one more notch and deciding this would be the way to do it. Sure coincidences happen, but do you really want that to be the basis for your story? If we'd cared about Martin or Izmat, that would have helped as well but these characters never really emerged from their definitions--heroic SAS officer and noble but anti-American rebel.

    Not being Forsyth at his best is certainly no insult--most thriller writers would love to be able to write like Forsyth on his worst day. THE AFGHAN is an enjoyable read.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 1/23/07

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