Sometime last month, I was notified by the National Library to collect “The Kill List” – Frederick Forsyth’s latest novel published beginning of the year. I had booked that novel online when it first became available many months ago. But the queue was super long. When my good friend handed over copy of the book end of last month, I jumped on it. Managed to finish the book and still waiting for that elusive Freddie to collect it. He just doesn’t realize what action he’s missing! Maybe, he does since like myself, we have read all of Forsyth’s novels.
There are tons of reviews you could find online. So I’m not going thru in details about the book. Suffice it is to say that it is only 350 pages; quite a relatively short novel filled with fantastic action taking you from the US to UK and all over the Islamic world in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia no-man’s land. Of course, the Mossad Jews also got a part of the action.
It’s basically about a highly intelligent tenacious ex-Marine tasked to hunt down an on-line Islamic preacher converting many locally born Muslims. The queer thing about this on-line fiery preacher is that he is using perfect flawless English to conduct sermons to radicalize locally born Muslims in the UK and US. The preacher leaves no traces in cyber world, no accent to trace his origins or any other clues. That’s the big headache for the ex-Marine codenamed “The Tracker.”
The break through came when The Tracker accidentally came across this young boy who is a computer wizard even though he is a weird genius suffering from “Asperger” and “Agoraphobia” syndrome whatever that is. The Tracker codenamed him “Ariel”. From there, slowly and bit by bit, The Preacher shows his tail sniffed out by Ariel.
I’ll quote this short passage which is also my favorite …
“Roger (Ariel), there’s a man out there, somewhere, hiding in cyberspace. He hates our country. He is called the Preacher. He gives sermons online, in English. He asks people to convert to his way of thinking and kill Americans. It’s my job to find him and stop him.”
“But I cannot. Out there, he’s cleverest operator in cyberspace.”
He noticed the shuffling had stopped. For the first time the teenager raised his eyes and made eye contact. He was contemplating a return to the only world a cruel Nature had ever destined him to inhabit. The Tracker opened a pouch and took out a memory stick.
“He transmits, Roger, but he keeps his internet protocol address very secret, so nobody knows where he is. If we knew, we could get him to stop.”
The teenager toyed with the memory stick in his fingers.
“What I’m here for, Roger, is to ask if you would help us find him.”
“I could try,” said the teenager.
“Tell me, Roger, what equipment do you have up there?” (In the attic where he always stays there for his meals and sleep)
The teenager told him. It was not the worst on the market but it was run-of-the-mill-store-bought stuff.
“If someone came and asked you, what would you really like?” What would be your dream set-up, Roger?”
He came alive. Enthusiasm flooded his face. He made eye contact again.
“I would really love a dual six-core processor system with 32gigs of RAM, running a Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution version, six or higher.”
The Tracker did not take notes. The tiny microphone in his medal display was picking up everything. Just as well; he had not a clue what the lad was talking about. But the eggheads would.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, and rose. “Have a look at the material. It may be you cannot crack it. But thanks for trying.”
Within two days a van with three men and some very expensive cyber-equipment arrived at the backstreet house in Centerville. They crawled around the loft until they had installed it all. Then they left a very vulnerable nineteen-year old staring at the screen and believing he had been wafted to heaven. He watched a dozen of the sermons on the Jihadi website and began to tap.
Pages 68 to 69 of “The Kill List”
It took me about three days to finish the book. I could have finished it earlier but I had to give myself a break cuz this 75 yr old writer is running so much faster than I could cope. Actions, events and all kinds of facts, figures and scenarios are thrown at me as I scan thru the pages at break-neck pace! KNN! I nearly tripped and fell few times due to the swift moving scenes. I think this 75 yr year old runs even faster than Dr Chan Joon Yee.
Compared to his other novels like The Afghan, The Avenger or even The Cobra; this novel lacks depth. There are not much details or nice narrative like you would find in Jeffrey Archer’s novels or even Wilbur Smith’s novels. I was quite eager hoping to read more details about the elusive 36 member elite Pathfinders of the British SAS but sadly nothing much. Maybe his sources did not reveal much to him when he was writing the novel. He claims that he spent 50,000 pounds conducting his own research before he started writing this novel. Nearly 2 yrs to finish it. One yr of research followed by another yr writing it!
Anyway, I still enjoy reading his novels. I hope he won’t outsource his brand name to others to make a quick buck. Many famous writers or novelists are doing just that with even Wilbur Smith indicating that he may consider franchising his name to other budding writers. Really langgar!
About one week after I finished the novel, the library sent me a note to collect the copy I booked months ago. I just paid $1.55 for the collection fee and passed it to my ex-colleague Simon. He’s a also a book lover. Maybe he’s fitter than me cuz he frequently goes cycling. He is able to finish it within 24 hours despite the break-neck pace the story runs! Simon returned it to the library on my behalf with gratitude!
As I am writing this, my own copy given by Lohcifer is still waiting for our great Datuk Freddie’s procrastination. I’m sure he got the message by now cuz he follows my blog regularly. Like I said earlier, he is missing lots of action the longer he’s holding out!
With his latest novel, The Kill List, Frederick Forsyth has come full circle since writing the timeless book, The Day of the Jackal. He returned to the formula that has made him a classic political thriller writer, using his journalistic instincts to make them relevant and realistic.
The reader can draw upon similarities between his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, and his latest, The Kill List. Both books were influenced by real life events: the Jackal is hired to kill French President Charles De Gaulle while President Obama chooses which terrorists shall live and which shall die from “a kill list.” Both books go into great detail about the worldwide hunt for the antagonist.
The intense plot has an ex-Marine, special ops person, Kit Carson, whose alias is “The Tracker,” assigned to hunt down and kill an Islamist extremist known as “The Preacher.” This terrorist was put on “the kill list” after he radicalized a number of Muslims in the US and England to carry out assassinations, one of which was Carson’s father, a retired Marine General. What makes the task even more difficult is that the identification and location of The Preacher is hidden in a morass of intricate computer defenses. Among those who are recruited to help find the terrorist are a teen-age boy with Asperger’s syndrome, an expert in the use of computers, and an Israeli agent imbedded in Somalia.
It appears that Forsyth wanted to give a heads up to those Marines who were killed in the US bombing in Lebanon in 1983. He told blackfive.net, “This Hezbollah fanatic drove a truck into the US Marine barracks, causing a horrendous explosion. A Marine witness kept saying about the Arab terrorist, ‘he was smiling.’ I believe this was the first time that the West got an inkling of the mindset of these Jihadists. They are happy to go because they have either been convinced or convinced themselves that they are going into paradise. I made my hero a US Marine Colonel, a patriotic man who fought for his country in the Special Forces. He has now become a man hunter of a vicious killer. My model for the antagonist was the Islamic cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who preached violent jihad on the Internet, and was killed in a drone strike.”
Another interesting fact is the relevancy of a quote from The Day of the Jackal, “A fanatic prepared to die himself in the attempt is always the most certain method of eliminating…” Readers should remember this book was first published in 1971, thirty years before 9/11. The author seems to also make the point in The Kill List when he writes, “Then came 9/11 and the West woke-up at last.”
Forsyth explained, “I have been accused of seeing the future. But people forget that 9/11 was not the beginning. Al Qaeda was working against the US eight years before. There were the two lethal bombings in Africa in 1998, the virtual destruction of the USS Cole, and the bombings in Saudi Arabia. Within this period the US did not wake up. It appeared the forces that be were asleep.”
The author has meticulously researched his book that is strong on insider knowledge about the military, high tech espionage, the existence of a government agency, Technical Operations Support Activity (TOSA), and the thinking of terrorists. Since he started writing this book three years ago it appears he was aware of information before it became public. Anyone concerned about recent revelations should read this book because the author explains in detail about the secret government organization, TOSA, whose job is to find and eliminate terrorists on “the kill list,” and how easy it is to infiltrate a computer system. A quote from the book, “It took forty-five minutes for the entire database to be sucked out and “imaged” into the duplicate, then put back without leaving any trace.”
He also gave a heads up that the latest book will be made into a Hollywood movie. Unfortunately, he loses all creative control so it will be left up to the writer and director to decide how the plot will be implemented.
The Kill List shows how governments use all means available to win the war on terrorism and hunt down the jihadists. It has topical issues that face the US and England today. Through a very entertaining story Forsyth is able to give details of the processes, organizations, and equipment needed to find the terrorists.
Book Talk: Frederick Forsyth on new hunt for an assassin
By Billy Cheung
Oct 3, 2013 5:42 AM
By Billy Cheung
NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 40 years after the release of his international best-selling espionage novel “The Day of the Jackal,” British author Frederick Forsyth has published another thriller that also focuses on a manhunt for an assassin.
“The Kill List” draws upon Forsyth’s research into some of the latest advances in counterterrorism to track down a fictional Muslim terrorist called The Preacher, who somewhat resembles Anwar al-Awlaki, the real-life al Qaeda militant who died in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Like “The Day of the Jackal” and three other Forsyth novels, the film rights for “The Kill List” have already been sold.
Forsyth, 75, spoke to Reuters about the research behind the book and literary transformations to the big screen.
Q: The novel’s plot unfolds in several cities, including Islamabad and Mogadishu. Can you describe how you put together such a detailed narrative?
A: For scenes that I have to describe at length, I like to visit to see first-hand. Of course, there are places where you cannot literally gain access. In those cases, I usually try to track down someone who had either been or worked there before.
In preparation for this book, I spent a fair amount of time around the Washington Beltway, which is a very intensive area for new consultancy and cyberspace corporations, and then Pakistan.
The toughest place of all was Mogadishu. I did not like many of the descriptions that I had read of the area since I did not think those authors had been there. If I wanted to get this really right, not just in terms of the geography but the smell and atmosphere of the place, I had to go there.
I flew down from Istanbul into Somalia and was accompanied by a bodyguard, who was a fellow Brit and ex-Special Forces. He was working out of Nairobi but had been down there two or three times before. He packed a gun under his left armpit and was on the tarmac waiting for me upon arrival.
We rented a jeep to venture outside what is called “the camp” for two days. In all, I spent about $50,000 in research expenses for “The Kill List.”
Q: How long did it take you to complete the book given your thorough research?
A: My books typically take a year to complete. From the first niggle of an idea until undertaking the research, I would estimate that process spanning about three months. Then the direct research takes another six months. Finally, I try to write 10 pages a day, six days a week after which we wind up with a 350-page book.
Q: What still motivates you to keep writing more books?
A: For each of the last three books, I keep thinking this will be it. I am not a compulsive. I do not need to sit down and drive myself to exhaustion. Quite possibly, I find time goes by and I get an idea, and it bats around in my mind. I start doing some basic research to test whether the idea is feasible. Could something happen, technically or procedurally?
For “The Kill List,” I wonder how religious extremists operate in their part of the world with their own language while evading capture. How are they found and ultimately eliminated? Many of the most-wanted terrorists have either been captured or killed.
I am drawn to the attraction of coming up with a problem and then finding solutions. This problem-solving lays a potential foundation for a book.
Q: How much input will you have into filming “The Kill List”?
A: I ask for none because I know from previous experience that filmmakers find it extremely tiresome being told what to do. The comparison is: if you are a full captain flying a jumbo jet, you do not need some guy from coach coming up to the flight deck telling you how to fly. They are polite about it but they don’t really want the author coming onto the set.
My wife says, ‘I would love to cast this.’ But I tell her if you start to name names, that actor won’t get the role.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Will Dunham)