Frederick Forsyth


The Fourth Protocol


I have relished some Forsythe, particularly some of his deft, meticulous short stories. The style of writing is similar here, but the length of the book has really exposed some weaknesses. It’s not a write-off, but I found the size and frequency of flaws along the way really undermined the experience.


For a start, much of the story hinges on the searing analysis of a crucial paper by a supposedly razor sharp analyst who has defected to the USSR: he’s worked out how the UK happens to have historically stumbled into a politically vulnerable singularity – with just the right management it could become another communist state. This is OK as a flight of fantasy for a story – but Forsyth plays it more as McCarthy style paranoia – the reds are under our beds, and the soft-hearted/headed lefties have no idea of the real danger. This appeals to equally narrow minds, but insults the intelligence of anyone who knows that there is a range foolish and smart, competent and incompetent on both Whig and Tory sides: for Forsythe if you’re not a Tory you’re either a brainless sheep, or a conniving murderer. There’s similar classic grumpy old man dismissals: his hero is the perfect father done wrong by this shallow, greedy woman – and there’s no hint of awareness that perhaps the perfect father isn’t the guy who only can give the odd weekend to parenting because he’s got a 70+ hour a week job, and maybe it wasn’t ideal for the marriage either.


The much vaunted searing analysis is also a major flaw. Kudos to Forsythe for not just *saying* that this paper is crucially insightful, but actually creating it for us to read. Sometimes this is a pleasure – as with 1984’s excerpts – which fit with the bold claims made about how important the text is. But here it’s laughable – the high level intelligence document reads far more like any old shock-jock talkback break, with jarringly out of place hyperbole where you are expecting cold, clinical evaluation.


The sub-plot of winning over a dodgy boss gives another potential pleasure, although it’s spelt out overlarge, and becomes another tool in praise of the ‘old-boy’ system.