One measure of a good writer is his ability to hold your attention even when you already know how the book is going to turn out. I read Forsyth’s more recent book, The Cobra, not long ago, and I recognized the character Paul Devereaux when he first appeared in The Avenger. I hadn’t recognized Cal Dexter, but once the plot involved Derereaux also, I remember that both were characters in The Cobra.
I also remembered that The Cobra referred to their having previously been opponents rather than partners, and I realized I was reading the book that told that story. Dexter wants to bring a gangster, who among his many crimes cruelly killed a young American aid worker, to justice. Deveraux wants to use the man as a tool to bring down someone who he believes is an even great danger to American interests.
I knew which of the two would succeed, but I found the story still engrossing. How would Dexter try to achieve his goal? How would Devereaux work to stop him? To what lengths would each go, and what moral constraints would guide their actions? Devereaux is cold and calculating, convinced that the greater good he will accomplish justifies the lesser evil he must commit in the process. Only in retrospect do we find out what Dexter did – and didn’t – do in his own machinations.
Some of the reader reviews at amazon.com complain that the novel has too much backstory, slowing down the action, and that the characters are two one-dimensional. They say that some of his earlier novels – The Dogs of War, The Odessa File, andThe Day of the Jackal, are far better. That may well be true – I think I may have read The Day of the Jackal but I’m not sure, and I know I never read the other two. Perhaps I should add them to my reading list.
There is a fair amount of history included, primarily of Vietnam and what used to be Yugoslavia. To me this is a plus but to some readers it could be a minus. There are some pretty gruesome deaths. (These bothered me surprisingly little, perhaps because they occur early in the novel to characters I felt little attachment to.) There are times when I would definitely not be in the right mood to read this. But on a hot weekend it was the right book to sit in the air conditioning and enjoy.