Hamilton: Frederick Forsythe: the real James Bond?
Readers who enjoy James Bond movies, who enjoy reading the spy novels of John le Carré, Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, et al, will love The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, the autobiography of, arguably, the greatest spy novelist of all time: Frederick Forsythe — the author of The Day of the Jackal (1971).
Those reading Forsythe’s novel about Charles de Gaulle in 1971 or later, had to know that Charles de Gaulle died peacefully at home in 1970. That being the fact of the matter, how do you get readers to buy into something they know could not possibly be true?
The trick is something the great novelists know how to create: The Suspension of Disbelief. For example, any sane person knows Ian Fleming’s James Bond character could not possibly perform all those acts of derring-do. Nor could all those high-tech devices produced by “Q” exist or, if they do, work so flawlessly. Yet the James Bond aficionado gets caught up in the cinematic wizardry and the Suspension of Disbelief occurs.
But, when he wrote The Day of the Jackal, Forsythe did not have the benefit of Hollywood illusion. With just the printed page, Forsythe gets the reader get so caught up in the plot to assassinate President de Gaulle the reader forgets De Gaulle was never assassinated. You find your heart beating faster and your blood pressure rising as it appears that the sniper — the Jackal — is going to be in perfect position to shoot President de Gaulle while de Gaulle is stand stock-still, pinning a medal on a French soldier.
But there is a lot more to Frederick Forsythe than being the master of the Suspension of Disbelief. Perhaps, more than any of the other espionage novelists such as Le Carré and Ian Fleming, Forsythe comes closer than anyone to living the life of James Bond.
As a teenager, he lived for long periods of time with rural families in post-war France and Germany where, thanks to total-immersion, he achieved native fluency in French and German. Later, he spent a months on the streets of Spain, becoming fluent in Spanish. A brilliant student, he turned down a scholarship to Cambridge to become a Royal Air Force fighter pilot.
As a foreign correspondent for Reuters and, later, as a free-lance journalist, Forsythe gets in and out of enough life-threatening adventures to fill a dozen James Bond novels. And, in the process, Forsythe is recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service to be one of its secret agents.
Yet there is a passage in The Outsider relevant to today’s on-going investigation of the Benghazi fiasco: “…It is said that if a tigress sees her cubs endangered, she will fight with deranged passion to defend them. But her dedication pales into submission compared with the fury with which senior civil servants and most notably the Foreign Office [read U.S. State Department] will defend the fiction that they cannot have made a mistake…” Were mistakes made before, during, and after Benghazi? You decide. But for Secretary Clinton to insist a video caused the death of four valiant Americans would require a Suspension of Disbelief even beyond the power of Frederick Forsythe.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the Infantry School, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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