The Day of the Jackal, 1971
The Odessa File, 1972
The Dogs of War, 1974
The Shepherd, 1975 (novella)
The Devil’s Alternative, 1979
The Fourth Protocol, 1984
The Negotiator, 1989
The Deceiver, 1991
The Fist of God, 1994
The Phantom of Manhattan, 1999
No Comebacks: Collected Short Stories, 1982
The Veteran: Five Heart-Stopping Stories, 2001
The Fourth Protocol, 1987 (with George Axelrod and Richard Burridge; adaptation of Forsyth’s novel)
The Biafra Story, 1969, revised 1983 (as The Making of an African Legend: The Biafra Story)
Emeka, 1982 (biography of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwa)
I Remember: Reflections on Fishing in Childhood, 1995
Great Flying Stories, 1991
Frederick McCarthy Forsyth (FOR-sith) is a well-known thriller writer. His father–also Frederick–was a furrier in the High Street of Ashford in the English county of Kent and had been a rubber tree planter in the Far East. Forsyth’s parents were lifelong friends of the novelist H. E. Bates, author of The Darling Buds of May (1958), and his wife, Madge. As an only child, Forsyth had a fairly solitary childhood during which he immersed himself in books. He devoured the works of such writers as G. A. Henty and John Buchan, as well as “The Saint” novels of Leslie Charteris. Forsyth was impressed with Ernest Hemingway’s nonfiction book on bullfighters, Death in the Afternoon (1932), to such an extent that at the age of seventeen he went to Spain and started practicing cape work, though he never actually fought a bull.
Forsyth attended Tonbridge, a minor public school in Kent, where he excelled at modern languages but little else. After five months at Granada University in Spain, he returned to England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in May, 1956, as a National Serviceman. For a while, he was the youngest fighter pilot in the force. His love of aircraft shows clearly in his writing, such as the novella The Shepherd (a Christmastime ghost story), and his editing of the anthology Great Flying Stories.
In 1958 Forsyth joined the Eastern Daily Press, a newspaper in Norfolk, England, as a cub reporter. On the strength of his fluency in French, German, Spanish, and Russian, he joined Reuters news agency in autumn of 1961. He was posted to the Paris office as a foreign correspondent. This was a valuable time: In July, 1962, while Forsyth was in France, Algeria gained its independence, and a month later, the OAS (Organisation de l’Armée Secret) made an attempt on French president Charles de Gaulle’s life. These were the events that provided the springboard for Forsyth’s first novel, The Day of the Jackal.
Forsyth experienced the Cold War at first hand when Reuters transferred him behind the Iron Curtain to be their sole representative for East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. During this time, his room and telephone were bugged, and on one occasion he was picked up by the Russian army. He was caught up in a real-life spy drama when an American captain defected but had second thoughts and accosted Forsyth in an ice cream bar, hoping he could help him get back to the West.
In 1965, Forsyth joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a reporter. A major turning point in his life was in July, 1967, when Biafra declared its independence from Nigeria and the BBC sent him to Biafra into a situation that rapidly became a war. Although the reports he sent back described exactly what he saw, they were called biased, hysterical, and unreliable, and the BBC recalled Forsyth to London. Resigning, he returned to Biafra as a freelance reporter for Time magazine and the Evening Standard and Daily Express newspapers. His experiences were the subject of his first book, The Biafra Story, a highly partisan account of a war in which more than a million people died, many of them starving children. Although it sold out within a week, it was not reprinted at the time–a fact attributed by some observers to political pressure. There have, however, been two subsequent editions.
When Forsyth finally returned to London, he had no job, no prospects, and no savings. In order to make some money, he wrote The Day of the Jackal in thirty-five days in 1970. It was turned down by several publishers who felt the novel would lack the tension needed in a thriller, as de Gaulle was definitely still alive. Forsyth finally sold it to Hutchinson, which offered him a two-book contract. Once published, sales were initially slow but gradually developed momentum and surpassed both publisher’s and author’s expectations, selling six million copies worldwide within three years. Forsyth won the 1971 Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for this book.
His idea for The Odessa File came from an article by Peter Terry in The Sunday Times newspaper, written while Forsyth was in East Germany in 1964-1965, researching the disappearance of certain Nazis at the end of World War II. As in The Day of The Jackal, some of the characters are based upon real people, and one consequence of the film version of The Odessa File was identification and denouncement of Eduard Roschmann, a Nazi death camp commandant. Roschmann was arrested but died of a heart attack before going to trial. Also in this book is reference to a hoard of Nazi gold that was exported to Zurich in 1944. Twenty-five years after publication, the Jewish World Congress discovered this passage and, after making enquiries, located gold valued at one billion British pounds.
Forsyth continued intertwining fact and fiction in his subsequent novels, such as The Fist of God, which uses the Gulf War as a backdrop and again shows his uncanny knack of finding or predicting unspoken truths. For example, it was not until after the publication of The Fist of God that it became known that British Special Air Service (SAS) troopers were in the Iraqi desert during the whole period of the Gulf War.
After the publication of The Dogs of War, Forsyth retired to southern Spain. He did not give up writing, but his next book was an illustrated novella, The Shepherd, which drew on his RAF experiences from 1957, when the story is set. After the publication of Icon in 1996, the press reported that Forsyth was retiring from writing. This was a misstatement, as he actually wanted to write other types of books rather than thrillers. The Phantom of Manhattan is a considerable departure, as it is a sequel to Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera (1910). For this book, as well as all his others, Forsyth did considerable research and probably spent more time checking facts than he spent actually writing the book.
Forsyth married his wife, Carole, in 1973, and they have two sons, Frederick Stuart and Shane Michael. In 2001 he published a collection of stories that was available only on the Internet.
With the revenue from his books and the films, he has lived in a number of impressive homes, including mansions in Ireland; St. John’s Wood, London; a 140-acre farm in Hertfordshire; and a villa in Marbella, Spain. He has a passion for deep-sea angling but prefers to live quietly, choosing to meet press and interviewers in the foyer of a hotel.