Review: The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth

December 5, 2013

Author: Frederick Forsyth
Publisher: Putnam
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9780399165276
Rating: ★★½☆☆
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The Kill List is another thriller from the now famous author, Frederick Forsyth. It goes the route of a typical Forsyth plot, with some aberrations. 

Lt. Kit Carson aka ‘The Tracker’ heads an obscure unit of the American army that goes by the insipid name of TOSA (Technical Operations Support Activity). Its job is to track, locate and eliminate those considered dangerous to USA. Their names are included in The Kill List. The latest addition to this list is ‘The Preacher’, an extremist who uses religion as a ferocious weapon. The Preacher is an enigma, his identity completely unknown. He preaches radical sermons on the internet that are so effective, they entice young Muslims to renounce their world and embrace Jihad. The Hunt for Preacher turns personal when a radicalised Muslim targets Kit Carson’s father.

At the outset, I am a big fan of Frederick Forsyth, and therefore likely to swing on the extreme side in my praise or criticism. I have always enjoyed reading Forsyth’s books, which I find a perfect blend of John Le Carrè and Robert Ludlum. The Kill List is typical Forsyth – well researched, evenly paced, and full of minute details of the labyrinthine world of espionage. Forsyth has always focussed on the human side of espionage without becoming too technical, yet narrating the intricacies of government machinery and its complex web of inter-related services and organisations in minute detail. The Kill List is no exception – TOSA actually exists and so do British Pathfinders, an elite reconnaissance unit.

Yet The Kill List is not one of my favourites among the master’s works. Biggest flaw of the book – it is totally one sided. A cat and mouse chase that keeps you on the edge of your seat has always been Forsyth’s forte. Both sides continuously try to outwit each other, the antagonist always being a step ahead until the very end; culminating in a thrilling climax and a surprising twist. The Kill List lacks all of this. There is no tension, The Tracker being in command always. It is only a matter of time, but you know for sure right from the start that he will get The Preacher. The book only tells us ‘How’. In addition, there are couple of glaring loopholes, mistakes that a highly paranoid terrorist like The Preacher would never commit. I also like Forsyth for the way he weaves a series of unrelated coincidences in his plot that turn the tide when you are thinking that it is anybody’s game. However, this is also missing. Probably this is why the end was so anticlimactic; after all, you always knew what was coming, the climax is forced and the final fight between Preacher and Tracker lacks the usual chutzpah.

My criticism aside, this is not a bad book. ‘Not at his best’ Forsyth is still a better writer than many. Therefore, if you have not read a Forsyth yet, The Kill List is as good a starting point as any. However, if The Day of The Jackal, The Odessa File and The Fourth Protocol are among your favourite spy novels, chances are that you may be disappointed.

Here‘s an article about what prompted the author to start writing this book, and another on the film version of the The Kill List. 

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