Monday, October 27, 2008

Frederick Forsyth: The Deceiver

I just re-read The Deceiver by Frederick Forsyth. Forsyth has been one of my favorite authors since Day of the Jackal came out in paperback as I was graduating from college. (I did not buy many hardbacks in those days.) I love the meticulous detail he goes through to explain, believably, everything that his characters do. (It may have been too much detail in Dogs of War, but I’ve lost my copy over the years, so can’t easily re-read to find out.)

The Deceiver may be a little less detail oriented than many of Forsyth’s books. But his plot lines are still intellectually complex. As I was reading this book, especially the first two parts, I was reminded of John Le CarrĂ©. In the espionage world, no one really knows everything that is going on. The book is really four short novellas, loosely connected by “interlude” pages. They work well together with a common protagonist. But they would have worked equally well with four different protagonists.

Sam McCready has been a field operator for the British Secret Intelligence Service. At some point a new desk was created – Deception, Disinformation, and Psychological Operations. In the vernacular of the service, the head of the desk was referred to as the Deceiver. McCready became that head.

With the end of the cold war, higher politicians saw a need to downsize the SIS. They specifically wanted to make a point in the downsizing by forcing McCready into early retirement. Not surprisingly, McCready did not feel that all the dangers of the world were ending with the demise of the Soviet Union. In a typically uncooperative, insubordinate vein, he insisted on a formal hearing as allowed by office regulations. McCready’s deputy and close supporter, Dennis Gaunt, spoke on his behalf, reviewing four specific cases from the files. Thus the four novellas.

In “Pride and Extreme Prejudice” we have a story of a Russian general – a long time agent – wanting to pass critical information across through a personal contact in East Germany. The KGB is strongly suspicious, but has not gotten solid evidence. McCready has been identified in the past, and is no longer allowed to cross into East Germany. So he must find someone else that the General will deal with. Complications ensue.

In “The Price of the Bride” a full colonel of the KGB, Pyotr Alexandrovitch Orlov defects to the Americans. He is giving a lot of information. But McCready has reason to suspect he is part of an elaborate disinformation plot. But how do you prove such a thing? The Americans are especially proud of their prize, and aren’t interested in British sour grapes.

“A Casualty of War” deals with IRA terrorists, and weapons supplied by Lybia’s Qaddafi. After the Americans bombed Tripoli, Qaddafi is out for revenge. He wants to hurt America at home, but also in England. He wants to hurt England as well because they allowed bombers based there to participate in the raid. If you want to hurt the British, who better to delegate the task to than the IRA? When the British get wind of the plan, they task McCready to stop the weapons before they can be delivered to the IRA. McCready in turn does some unexpected recruiting of his own to get an agent into the game to track the shipment.

“A Little Bit of Sunshine” is a delightful bit of fluff, not really representative of Forsyth (or Le CarrĂ©). It relies on too much coincidence and near omniscience on McCready’s part. But it is flat out fun. A small Caribbean island is approaching independence. The population does not really want to be independent, but the British cabinet does not like the expense of subsidizing them. There are two candidates for Prime Minister, one representing business and prosperity, the other representing the lower classes. Both are recent returnees to the island. Both have outside professional organizers that lean a lot to the thuggish side. The leading citizens are petitioning the Royal Governor to request a referendum on independence rather than an election for Prime Minister. Things start coming to a head when the Governor is murdered, and Sam McCready leaves his Caribbean vacation to change islands and look into things.

My only complaint about the book is that McCready did no deceiving. Gaunt is trying to protect his position as the Deceiver, but none of his examples show McCready involved in any kind of deception, disinformation, or psychological operation. He is a completely delightful character, and obviously very good in his line of work. I bet he could have done a really good job tricking someone. But we never see it.

The Deceiver is yet another in a long line of great Frederick Forsyth books. It is a little out of his norm, but I loved it all the same. As time permit, I need to re-read some of my other Forsyth books, or even to replace my long lost ones.

No comments: