BOOK REVIEW: THE DOGS OF WAR BY FREDERICK FORSYTH

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Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    The Dogs of War (1974) is a war novel by Frederick Forsyth featuring a small group of European mercenary soldiers hired by a British industrialist to depose the government of the fictional African country of Zangaro.

    An eponymous film was also released in 1980, based on the novel directed by John Irvin. The movie was filmed in Belize in Central America.

    The story details a geologist’s mineral discovery, followed by preparations for the attack that entails: soldier recruitment, training, reconnaissance, and the logistics of the coup d’état. Like most of Forsyth’s work, the novel is more about the protagonists’ art of espionage occupational tradecraft than their characters. The source of the title, The Dogs of War, is Act III, scene 1, line 270 of Julius Caesar (1599), by William Shakespeare: Cry, ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.

    The mercenary protagonists are professional killers—ruthless, violent men, heroic only in the loosest sense of the word. Thus, they are anti-heroes. Initially introduced as simply killers, as the novel progresses they are gradually shown to adhere to a relatively moral mercenary code; however as the mercenary leader Shannon tries to explain at one point, it is difficult for civilians to understand this. I’ve divided the narration into three parts.

Part 1: The Crystal Mountain: Year 1970: The prologue shows “Cat” Shannon and his fellow mercenaries leaving a West African war they have lost, saying their goodbyes to the General, who employed them for six months.

    A few weeks later, a prospector employed by British based company, ‘Man-son Consolidated’ sends mineral samples, acquired from the “Crystal Mountain” in the remote hinterland of the African republic of Zangaro, to headquarters. When they are analysed, ruthless British mining tycoon Sir James Manson realises that there is a huge platinum deposit in Zangaro. The president of Zangaro, Jean Kimba, is a Marxist, homicidal, insane, and under Soviet influence, so any public announcement of the findings would benefit only the Russians. Confiding only in his top assistants, security chief Simon Endean, financial expert Martin Thorpe and Manson himself, they plan to depose Kimba and install a puppet leader who, for a pittance, will sign over Zangaro’s mining rights to a shell company secretly owned by Manson. When Manson Consolidated eventually acquires the shell company for a fair market price, Sir James Manson and his aides pocket £60 million.

    On the recommendation of a freelance writer (a thinly-veiled allusion to Forsyth himself), Endean hires Anglo Irish mercenary soldier “Cat” Shannon to reconnoitre Zangaro, and to investigate how Kimba might be deposed. After visiting the country posing as a tourist, Shannon reports that the army has little fighting value and that Kimba has concentrated the national armoury, treasury and radio station within the presidential palace in Clarence, the Zangaran capital city and principal port. If the palace is stormed and Kimba killed, there will be no opposition to any new regime. Because there is no organised dissident faction in Zangaro, the attacking force will have to be assembled outside the country and land near Clarence to launch the attack. Shannon prices the mission at £100,000, with £10,000 for himself. Although Shannon has dealt only with Endean who is using a false name, he has had Endean tailed by a private investigator and has discovered his true identity and his involvement with Sir James Manson.

    Although Manson has taken steps to silence the few people aware of the Crystal Mountain platinum deposit, the chemist who analysed the samples has inadvertently revealed his findings to the Soviets, who assign a KGB bodyguard to Kimba while they prepare to send in their own geological survey team. Manson learns from a Foreign Office bureaucrat that the Soviets have got wind of the deposit. He commissions Shannon to organise and mount the coup, to take place on the eve of Zangaro’s Independence Day, one hundred days hence, although he does not tell Shannon of the Soviet involvement.

Part 2: The Hundred Days

Shannon reassembles his old team to execute the attack on Kimba’s palace that includes: German ex-smuggler Kurt Semmler, South African mortar expert Janni Dupree, Belgian bazooka specialist “Tiny” Marc Vlaminck, and Corsican knife-fighter Jean-Baptiste Langarotti. Semmler travels Europe looking for a suitable cargo ship to transport them and their equipment to Zangaro. Dupree remains in London to buy all their uniforms, boots, haversacks and sleeping bags. Langarotti travels to Marseilles to acquire inflatable boats for the amphibious assault. Vlaminck accompanies Shannon to Belgium to obtain one hundred ‘Schmeisser’   submachine guns from a former member of the SS, then remains in Belgium to prepare them to be smuggled out in oil drums. Shannon then travels to Luxembourg to establish a holding company to handle the purchase of the ship, to Spain to buy walkie-talkies, foghorns, flares, and 400,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition for the Schmeissers with a forged end user certificate, and to Yugoslavia to buy bazookas, mortars, and ammunition for them.

    Shannon also finds time for a brief sexual liaison with Julie Manson, Sir James Man-son’s daughter, from whom he learns the bare essentials of Manson’s true plans. Simultaneously, Charles Roux, one of Shannon’s rivals, tries to have Shannon killed since he is frustrated that Endean did not approach him for the contract despite the freelance writer recommending him. Upon this, Langarotti tips Shannon off and they lure the assassin hired by Roux into a trap, sending his severed head to Roux to permanently silence him.

    Martin Thorpe has in the meanwhile secretly purchased the controlling share in Bormac Trading, a mining and plantation-owning company which has long ceased trading, from Lady MacAllister, the ailing widow of the company’s founder. His and Manson’s involvement is concealed behind the names of several fictitious shareholders. Endean has simultaneously obtained the agreement of Colonel Antoine Bobi, a former commander of the Zangaran Army who fell out with Kimba and is now in exile, to participate in Man-son’s scheme. Once installed as president, the venal and illiterate Bobi will sign over the mineral rights of the Crystal Mountain to Bormac Trading for a nominal price but a large bribe for himself.

    The mercenaries get underway after Semmler acquires a nondescript cargo ship Toscana, for the operation. Hidden in oil drums, the Schmeissers are smuggled across the Belgian border into France and loaded aboard the Toscana at Marseilles, along with the uniforms and inflatable boats, marked supposedly for watersports in Morocco. They then sail to Ploce in Yugoslavia to load the mortars and rocket launchers purchased legitimately from an arms dealer, without telling the Yugoslavian authorities that they already have arms aboard. These weapons are then concealed below the deck and the ship sails to Castellon in Spain to collect the ammunition (supposedly sold to the Iraqi police force). The ship then travels to Freetown in Sierra Leone to pick up six African mercenaries, disguised as casual stevedores, who will also participate in the attack, and Dr Okoye, an African academic.

Part 3: The Killing Spree

    The attack on President Kimba’s palace takes place as planned. In the early hours of the morning, the mercenaries land on the shores of Zangaro and set up foghorns and flares to disorient the defenders and light their way through the attack. Dupree and two of the African mercenaries begin the assault by using mortars to bombard both a nearby army camp and the interior of the palace compound, thereby eliminating the palace guard, while Vlaminck destroys the compound gates with anti-tank rockets. As the bombardment ceases, Semmler, Shannon, Langarotti and the other four African mercenaries storm the palace, with Semmler shooting Kimba as he tries to escape through his bedroom window. Kimba’s KGB bodyguard escapes the firefight and shoots Vlaminck in the chest, but Vlaminck retaliates, killing him with his last bazooka rocket as he dies. Following the bombardment, Dupree and his two African mercenaries attack the nearby army camp. A Zangaran soldier throws a grenade at them as he flees and one of the African mercenaries throws it back, but it falls short and Dupree, deafened by the gunfire and shelling, fails to hear the warnings and is accidentally killed in the blast.

    Around midday, Endean arrives in Clarence to install Colonel Bobi as the new Zangaran president. He has his own bodyguard, a former East End gang enforcer. When Endean and Bobi arrive at the palace, Shannon lures Bobi into a room where a shot is heard; just as Endean realizes that Shannon has killed Bobi, Shannon then shoots Endean’s bodyguard as the enforcer, tries to draw his gun, and casually introduces Dr. Okoye as the new head of the government. At Shannon’s request, the Soviet geological survey team’s request to land in Zangaro is permanently refused.

Now we come to the aftermath

    As Shannon drives Endean to the border, he explains that Endean’s otherwise comprehensive research failed to note the 20,000 immigrant workers who did most of the work in Zangaro, but were politically dis-en-franchised by the Kimba government. A hundred of them, in new uniforms and armed with Schmeissers, have already been recruited as the nucleus of the new Zangaran Army.

    When Shannon tells Endean that the coup was really conducted on behalf of a Nigerian General, Endean is furious but Shannon points out that this government will at least be fair, and if Manson wants the platinum, he will have to pay the proper market price. Endean threatens revenge if he ever sees the mercenary in London, but Shannon is unperturbed with the warning.

    In the novel’s epilogue, it is revealed that Dupree and Vlaminck were buried in simple unmarked graves near the shore. Semmler, later sold the Toscana to its captain, and died while on another mercenary operation in Africa. Langarotti’s fate, is ambiguous; the novel tells only that after he took his pay, he was last heard of going to train a new group of Hutu partisans in Burundi against Michel Micombero, telling Shannon “It’s not really the money. It was never for the money.”

    The epilogue reveals that before embarking on the Zangaro operation, Shannon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (skin cancer in some American editions) with only a year to six months to live. Three months after the coup, he posts the remainder of his earnings to the surviving family members of his fallen teammates, and also sends a manuscript (presumably outlining the entire plan) to a journalist in London (presumably the aforementioned freelance writer). Lastly, Shannon walks into the African bush, whistling a favourite tune (“a Spanish Harlem”), to end his life on his own terms with “a gun in his hand, blood in his mouth, and a bullet in his chest”.

    Although each work by Forsyth stands individually, there are certain similarities which may be described as his stylistic formula for success: There is always an efficient hero who is at odds with the establishment; a historical backdrop frequently places the hero in contact with known public figures in known historical situations; intricate detail is offered, lending authenticity to the work; and ingenious plots, which resemble large jigsaw puzzles of seemingly disconnected actions or events, are developed. Other writers use one or more parts of the formula, but it is these four facets that, when used collectively, distinguish a Forsyth work.

My take eight out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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