Day of the hack fall
Frederick Forsyth’s new cyber thriller is as predictable as it is clichéd.
You’d think after all these years, Frederick Forsyth would know a thing or two about what makes a good yarn. After all, it’s almost half a century since he banged out the muchpraised The Day of the Jackal. Legend has it the then down-on-his-uppers journalist wrote it in a month, and in the process he arguably reinvented the modern thriller.
There have been many yarns since, around a dozen novels before this and a couple of short-story collections. So, yes, you’d think the now 80-year-old’s control of plot, pace and epic spectacle would be unassailable. The Fox, his first novel for five years, suggests otherwise.
The beginning is promising enough. A team of British and US special forces raid a suburban home in Luton, looking for some sort of super hacker who, against odds of a gazillion to one, has managed to break through the powerful firewalls of a computer database housing the Yanks’ most carefully guarded secrets.
Unfortunately, the special-ops raid finds only a tired old trope. The home’s family of four includes your standard innocent prodigy archetype, an 18-yearold with Asperger’s syndrome, a boy whose condition just happens to give him a kind of second sight – Forsyth never really explains how it works – that somehow allows him to hack the
The kid, for the purposes of the plot, is immediately considered the most dangerous person on the planet, and naturally the Americans want him thrown in prison. However, another tired old trope, Sir Adrian Weston – a wily retired spy and hush-hush adviser to the British PM – has a better idea. They will weaponise the boy – now dubbed “The Fox” – and use him against the evil axis of Russia, Iran and North Korea, to hack the unhackable for Queen, country and the Western Alliance.
There is one good set piece involving a Russian warship, but after the first 100 pages, Forsyth’s story becomes repetitive, episodic and entirely predictable as The Fox, more device than character, performs one miraculous world-shaking hack after another, before a final act that is not just risible but utterly laughable.
Still, Forsyth’s great skill, and the thing that helped make the Jackal such a hit, is
the way he weaves present – and, to some extent, plausibly prescient – events into his stories.
You feel as though his yarns are happening in the world we live in and that here is the real story behind the news. He makes the reader feel like an insider, guiding you through the machinations and motivations of endless spy agencies, politicians and assorted underworld types.
Conspiracy theorists might find that compelling. Those wanting more bang for their buck than cliché, wafer-thin characters and formulaic cyber drivel will feel hacked off.
THE FOX, by Frederick Forsyth (Bantam Press, $37)
Formulaic: Frederick Forsyth.