My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I loved this book. It was a great read. I read over some reviews when I finished it and was gratified to see a lot of people agreed with me, but I found two one star reviews, both of which admitted this was the first time they’d read Forsyth. Their main complaint seemed to be all of the “history” that Forsyth wrote about and forced us to read before the action started. One of them said this was the “lamest” book ever. Um, insanity! Nuts! If you knew anything about the author, you’d know that he always spends the first halves of his books building up the back story before proceeding to the action. That’s his thing. It’s attention to detail and it’s masterful. It’s what draws a lot of people to him. This book does have a lot of “history” and planning and detail, but it’s all essential to the entire story and the story is good. In fact, it’s incredibly exciting. I couldn’t put the book down over the final 100 pages. I had to see what would happen.
It’s 1995, and a nice young man — college age — leaves North America to go to war torn Bosnia to help out aid services for the summer. Where he is brutally killed by a group of para-military Serbs, led by Serb butcher Zoran Zilic. The boy’s grandfather, in Canada, a very wealthy individual, hires a private detective to go look for him. He’s pretty good and he eventually finds out that Ricky is undoubtedly dead, but he couldn’t nail down the perpetrator. He had his suspicions and found one of the soldiers in Belgrade, who he couldn’t get to confess, but with whom he left his card in case he ever wanted to. Fast forward to 2001. This soldier had a conscious and decided to confess. This confession made its way to the detective and then to the Canadian millionaire. And he wanted his revenge.
Meanwhile, there’s attorney Cal Dexter. He’s a Vietnam vet, where he was a “Tunnel Rat,” an unsung hero of a man who went into heavily booby trapped Viet Cong tunnels to raid their quarters and to assassinate as many as possible. He was very good. Now he’s much older, but he trains for triathlons on a regular basis and is in fantastic shape. He practices in a small New Jersey town, but keeps an apartment in New York City where he can operate out of for his side business by which he goes by the name of Avenger. He’s a mercenary. I know it sounds a little bizarre and it is, but just go with it. The only means of communicating with the Avenger is by placing ads in a small airplane magazine and one day he sees an ad asking for him to contact someone with no price ceiling for their job. He does. It’s the grandfather.
Meanwhile, the grandfather had also talked to some politicians who had taken the case of Zoran Zilic up with the Feds, notably the FBI and CIA. One of the FBI higher ups was aghast at what Zilic had done and wanted to get him. He had a talk with CIA agent Paul Devereux and found out that Devereux seemed to know where Zilic had disappeared to after the Bosnian war was over, but he wouldn’t give him up. This really ticked the FBI guy off and they parted ways unamicably. Devereux knew exactly where Zilic was. He was working for him. For two years, Devereux had been working on a way to get to bin Laden and Zilic was going to be his way in, carrying nuclear materials to sell to bin Laden only to blow bin Laden away with a drone via GPS when he reached him. So where was Zilic? Living on a heavily guarded estate in a small central American country called San Marino. And the Avenger had to find him and snatch him.
Dexter did some digging, made some assumptions, thought some thoughts and came up with some information. He basically came up with San Marino. He went and hired a private plane to fly over, where he spotted the huge fortified estate and took tons of photos from the plane. But he was spotted. Add that to the fact that he placed a call that was deemed suspicious to some people, and some people were on the phone to Devereux telling him that someone was after Zilic. He couldn’t believe it. He was so close to getting bin Laden. He had to stop this person, find him and stop him asap. So he started looking for him, first by getting the details on the plane. He found the pilot had been killed, presumably by Zilac’s men. He kept searching. Meanwhile Dexter was looking at pictures. He was impressed. The mansion was surrounded by a huge wall that was patrolled by numerous armed guards. On three sides, it was surrounded by cliffs beside the ocean. It’s only entrance was up high on a road from a slave labor camp owned by Zilic where some 1200 Hispanic men toiled on a self sustaining farm, next to a private air field. All surrounded by numerous fences and gates. There were hungry dobermans patrolling at night. As he found out later, in the water by the mansion, there were tons of sharks. In the river providing water to the estate, there were piranha. There were also spikes in the river. There were about 100 armed guards. It was a fortress. How was one man going to get in there, grab Zilic, and get out?
Dexter made his preparations. He bought supplies, got fake passports, while Devereux found out about the Avenger and went after him. But Dexter was always one step ahead of him. He went down to San Marino and had a hard time getting in, crashed the gate, left with the authorities looking for him, and returned later with a different passport. He rented a car and then left it to go hiking off into the jungle toward the estate. Word got to the CIA that the Avenger had penetrated San Marino and Devereux couldn’t believe it. Dexter had faked his own death with his first attempt and it had bought him some time, so the San Marino army was ticked and started looking for him everywhere while Devereux sent his second in command there to take charge and take care of Zilic. He was worried Zilic would not go after bin Laden if he found out a mercenary was after him and the CIA couldn’t get him.
So does Dexter do it? Well, you know he must, right? But how? I’m not going to tell you. You’re going to have to read the book yourself. It’s pretty damn amazing though. Even with Zilic finally finding out about Dexter and the dogs being loosed and all of the guards being stationed everywhere, is it possible Dexter still finds a way? It’s completely crazy. When everything’s over, Dexter winds up back in the US and calls the man in Canada. But it’s the final page of the book that’s stunning and makes it worth the price of the book alone. I won’t spoil it for you. The reason why I’m not giving this book five stars and am giving it only four is because Forsyth leaves so many things to chance that Dexter gets right. It’s just not very realistic. How would he know the man he kidnaps would be working that day? How would he know the guards would go for those small bombs? How would he know they’d go for the airplane? That seems like the unlikeliest assumption to me. How did he know a lot of things? How did he know to always stay one step ahead of the CIA, especially when he didn’t even know the CIA was tracking him? It’s just not that realistic. But it makes for a fantastic story. If you can get past the realism aspect of it, it’s a fun ride. I definitely recommend this book.