The Kill List, from spy fiction maestro Frederick Forsyth, is a highly relevant tale tackling modern terrorism.
Taking a page from the real world, The Kill List featured a charismatic terrorist (dubbed “The Preacher”) taking to the internet to radicalize followers around the world and inspire them to acts of Islamic Jihadism. Several high profile murders made The Preacher a high level target in the US and UK. His chief pursuer was an American operative from a secretive anti-terrorism agency, codenamed “Tracker.”
Over the course of several weeks, Tracker embarked on a campaign to identify and flush out the highly protected Preacher. Their inevitable confrontation intersected with an almost routine act of Somali piracy, leading to a brutal showdown in a small desert village.
The Kill List, first published in 2013, was the rare procedural that was especially interested in the actual procedure of spycraft and anti-terror operations. Forsyth has been working this beat for decades, through a variety of global terror iterations (see his classics like The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File). Forsyth provided a meticulous tour through the complex web of maneuvers, lucky breaks and setbacks that comprise a modern anti-terror operation. He used that to craft a compelling web that inexorably tightened, crafting suspense from his devotion to verisimilitude instead of tarted-up plot manipulations. It was a subtle approach, but also very effective.
Forsyth packed The Kill List with all kinds of smart details and intriguing sequences. The procedure a spy might take to enter a hostile territory or the mechanics behind electronically infiltrating a target’s life played out in fascinating ways. He didn’t stint on action, either. The climax involved a high altitude sky jump into the desert, infiltration of a desert village and a vicious one-on-one final battle between Tracker and The Preacher.
Despite being the two most integral characters in The Kill List, readers don’t really get too deeply into Tracker or The Preacher’s inner lives. Forsyth revealed plenty of facts about both of them, but also kept them at something of a remove. That could have been a detriment in less assured hands, but Forsyth made it a strength. The Preacher was more interesting as a product of the forces that shaped his world view than as another terrorist villain. Keeping Tracker somewhat aloof fit with the highly secretive nature of the character and his mission. Forsyth provided Tracker with an additional personal motivation to hunt down The Preacher, but that almost felt superfluous. The symbolic ideological clash represented by Tracker and The Preacher wound up being more involving.
Forsyth crafted memorable supporting characters for The Kill List. An agoraphobic teen hacker, a slippery negotiator for the ransom demands of the Somali pirates, a Mossad agent in deep cover behind enemy lines and a band of British commandos all were colorful and compelling. They gave the action a nice boost and provided a dynamic background to underline the archetypical Tracker/Preacher action.
For fans of quality, intelligent espionage thrillers, The Kill List is both timely and compelling.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on January 5, 2016.