The Fox

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

A strong effort by a top author.  Forsyth remains at the top of his game.  Bravo!  A little too political, which removed a star, but otherwise great!
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Frederick Forsyth, at age 80, has recently published his 17th book—The Fox.  In many regards, he has not lost his touch for crafting a great thriller/spy novel.  It is a tale of technological espionage, and Forsyth’s grasp of current global politics ( whether one agrees totally with him or not ) is spot on.  

This “novel” touches upon many of the geopolitical foes of the Western world from Russia to North Korea with the basic premise of a teenage British computer genius being used by the UK government ( and a retired spymaster) to wreak havoc through cyber attacks to threats to the democratic world.  I put the word “novel” in quotes because the book was not very long or very cohesive or as well developed as it could have been.  Parts of it were brilliant reading, and parts seemed rushed and not tied together.

Frederick Forsyth published his first novel, “The Day of the Jackal”, in 1971.  It became an international success and established him as a master in the genre of spy novels.  It was beautifully written and developed—a tale of a plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle.

This novel is Forsyth’s look at international conflicts that threaten the future of the Western world.  It could have been great if it had been better developed.  Instead it has sections that are quite well done and others that aren’t with loose ends.

My favorite character in the book wasn’t the 18 year old computer genius with Asperger’s syndrome, Luke Jennings, who seems to have an uncanny ability to break though computer defenses.  Instead, it is Sir Adrian Weston, a 70-year-old retired senior British intelligence official, who is called out of retirement and remains influential because the Prime Minister is intelligent enough to trust him rather than put him out to pasture.

This passage from the book describes Sir Adrian:

“Adrian Weston had few illusions about the profession of espionage to which he had devoted most of his life. He knew it had its darker side. He had repeatedly put his freedom and his life on the line because experience in “the job” had convinced him that in a thoroughly imperfect world it was necessary if the safe and free were to remain safe and free. He believed in his own country and in its tested standards. He believed that these were basically decent, but he also knew that on modern planet Earth decency was something to which only a small minority still held. 

For years his main enemy had been the KGB and, since the fall of Soviet Communism, its successors. He knew that, across the divide, murder, torture and cruelty had been the norm. He had fiercely resisted the temptation to go down that route to cut corners, achieve results. He knew with regret that some allies had not resisted. 

His own choice had always been to deceive the enemy, to outwit, to outmaneuver. And yes, there were dirty tricks, but how dirty? Servants of the global enemy had been suborned, persuaded to betray their country and spy for the West. And yes, by blackmail, if need be. Blackmail of thieves, of adulterers, of perverts in high office. It was repugnant but sometimes necessary, because the enemy from Stalin through to ISIS was far crueler and must not triumph.”

Forsyth’s story includes barely factionalized and acerbic descriptions of several world leaders:  Theresa May, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jong Un.  

I particularly thought his description of the current situation with North Korea and its nuclear capacity pretty realistic with the limited knowledge I have.  (Although I am very much NOT an expert in International Affairs—just someone who had lived through many decades of following world events.) 

Forsyth says of Kim John Un that his “ruthlessness is total, his obsession with himself absolute.”  

He also warns the prime minister that the supposed North Korean denuclearization is a scam — that if they have destroyed one nuclear facility they have simply hidden another one elsewhere.

From the book:

““North Korea is an enigma, Prime Minister. On the face of it, she has nothing. Or very, very little. In world terms, the country is small, barren, devoid of raw materials, hideously governed, bankrupt and very close to starving. The two grain crops—rice and wheat—have failed again. And yet North Korea bestrides the world like a conqueror.”

 “And how does the regime manage this, Adrian?”

“Because it is allowed to. The logical are always frightened of the insane.”

“And because they have nuclear bombs.”

“Yes, both types. Atomic and thermonuclear. Uranium and polonium. North Korea has ample stocks of both and, though the Kim regime may seem to be handing some over for destruction by the International Atomic Energy Authority, I am convinced it will retain others in secret places. It depends on whether the outside world will believe the lies.”

“But if North Korea publicly destroys its weapons-testing site—what is it called?” 

“Punggye-ri, Prime Minister.”

“With that destroyed, how can they go on?”

“Firstly, because Punggye-ri, which is or was a mountain, is already destroyed. And by them, in error. For thirty years at least, three successive regimes, all dominated by the Kim dynasty—grandfather, son and now grandson—have labored night and day to create and own an entire armory of nuclear bombs.

“Years ago, they chose the mountain of Punggye-ri and began to bore into the side of it. They dug and dug until they reached the heart. Machines were used, but also slave laborers. Many thousands died of malnutrition and overwork. Enough spoil was dug out of the mountain to create two more; it was trucked far away so as not to be seen from the air.

“When they reached the core they went on digging. More tunnels, galleries, testing chambers, over a hundred and eighty miles in all. That is a motorway-sized tunnel from London to the Hook of Holland. Then Mother Nature took over. The mountain could take no more. It began to fracture, to collapse inward.

“Still they would not stop. Then they tested their biggest H-bomb deep underground. They triggered an earthquake measured at over six on the Richter scale. That completed the implosion of the mountain of Punggye-ri.

“Simultaneously, the North Korean economy began to collapse, like the mountain, due to the economic sanctions imposed by the outside world after they expelled the inspectors from the International Atomic Engine Authority. That is when, last year, they hit upon the ruse: we will publicly destroy Punggye-ri if you will ship us the grain and oil we need. And the West has fallen for it.”

And a few pages later on:

“Sir Adrian had spent his working career as a civil servant in one of the most rigorous disciplines that exist in secret intelligence. He was convinced that most politicians and far too many senior civil servants possessed a personal ego of Himalayan proportions. Such a vanity could permit self-delusion with little harm done other than the expenditure of huge sums of taxpayers’ money to no purpose. Government waste is a fact of life. But if you indulge in self-delusion on a covert mission in the heart of an enemy dictatorship, you can end up very dead. The reason he was prepared to work for Marjory Graham was because he knew she was a rare exception to the rule of ego.

“Oh dear, do you really think so little of us, Adrian?”

“In 1938, I was not even born. I was a 1948 baby.”

“And I ten years later, in 1958. Your point?”

“In 1938, we had MI6. The Americans had not yet founded the CIA. And the United States was plunged in isolationism. But our agents were active in Nazi Germany. They knew about the first concentration camps—Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald. We discovered what they were, where they were, what went on inside them. We reported back. No one wanted to know.

“We reported that Hitler was laying down the keels for warships that a peace-loving Germany would never need. Again, no one in London wanted to know. We discovered new Messerschmitt fighters were rolling out at two a day. We reported this. Downing Street once again turned its back.

“A gullible Prime Minister listened only to the appeasement-fanatical Foreign Office. Hitler, he allowed himself to be convinced, was an honorable gentleman who, once he had given his word, would abide by it. But day by day the Führer was breaking every term of the 1918 Treaty of Versailles, every pledge he had ever made. And it was all provable.”

“Adrian, that was then, this is now. What is your point?”

“That it is happening again. The world’s leading Western power has decided to delude herself that an oriental monster of proven savagery will convert into a peace-loving partner in exchange for a bit of rice. It is another triumph of self-delusion.”

I enjoyed reading The Fox.  It was a quick read.  And it had very good moments.  But, it had frustrating moments too because it could have been more cohesive and well developed.

I thank G.P. Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of the book and for allowing me to review it.
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THE FOX is the latest espionage thriller by Frederick Forsyth whose best sellers (including The Day of the Jackal) have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. In this novel, Forsyth introduces a British teen on the autism spectrum, Luke Jennings, who is able to work around firewalls and protocols that stump experts in the field of cyberterrorism.  Gradually, a relationship develops and is managed by a former UK spy with Luke (code name: The Fox) ultimately cooperating with Western powers to have an impact on the weapon systems of countries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea. In the process, Luke's life and that of his family come under threat.  

It is difficult for me to make a full comparison to earlier works by Forsyth, but this one kept my interest, particularly due to its contemporary setting, and should satisfy his loyal readers as well as newer ones like many of our students. Throughout Forsyth wryly comments on international relationships as shown by a couple of quick quotes: "The logical are always frightened of the insane" (referring to tension between North Korea and the United States) and, regarding past espionage adventures: "There is a moment to stay put and a moment to move.  Pick the right one and you will see old age." THE FOX received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
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Frederick Forsyth continues to prove that he is one of the grand masters of espionage fiction.  Immersive, and propulsive this book is almost too believable!. In addition to a spellbinding plot, the geopolitics of the novel are informative and the reader is provided with the historical context that makes this not just an entertaining read but one that leaves the reader with current knowledge and fact.
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Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on October 23, 2018

The writer who started the trend of giving villains a cool nickname with The Day of the Jackal has returned with The Fox. Except that the Fox isn’t a villain. He’s an autistic teen hacker who is pretty much indifferent to, or intimidated by, the non-digital world. In that regard, Frederick Forsyth is following the trend of creating a hacker with an emotional disorder. The Fox, we soon learn, is the best hacker in the world.

After months of investigation, a harmless breach of the NSA database is traced to a house in a suburb north of London. The Americans, certain that the hacker will be protected by armed terrorists, want to send in SEALs with guns blazing, but the British insist on a more subtle, clandestine operation to occupy the house. Thus they manage to avoid killing the Fox, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, and his innocent family.

The Fox simply wanted to meet the challenge of breaking into an NSA’s database, but the Americans claimed he caused millions of dollars of “damage,” meaning it will cost millions to fix the flaw that he exploited and exposed but did not create. As is often true of cybercrimes that do not involve theft, the damage the Fox caused was to egos, not cybersystems.

Forsyth thus sets up a vulnerable teenager as a standard but sympathetic character. Wielding flattery as a weapon, Sir Adrian Weston convinces the American president (who is easily manipulated by flattery) to let Britain hang onto the Fox, where he will become a key player in Operation Troy. One of his first tasks proves to be supremely embarrassing to Russia, which prompts a call for revenge against the Fox. He later takes on Iran, North Korea (twice) and Russia again.

Forsyth portrays the United States (or more particularly Trump, although not by name) as extraordinarily gullible in trusting North Korea, making decisions based on ego (including the desire for a Nobel peace prize) rather than facts. Some readers might disagree with that assessment. Those readers may find themselves disliking The Fox for political reasons (assuming that they understand Forsyth is disparaging their favorite president). On the other hand, readers who get their news from a wide range of apolitical sources will likely regard Forsyth’s portrayal of the administration as spot on.

Forsyth’s political digs at America are amusing, but the plot comes across as more fantasy than thriller. In a fairly nonviolent way, the Fox manages to do serious but lasting damage to three totalitarian regimes. If only it were so, the world would be a safer place today. Yet the plot leads to those results without generating much tension (certainly nothing like Forsyth has managed in his better novels). Forsyth injects some action scenes as Britain’s best are assigned to protect the Fox from snipers and assault teams, but their success depends on luck as much as skill. This is far from an edge-of-the seat thriller, although Forsyth’s novels always move with good pace.

Wesley is portrayed as a typically competent strategist, an exemplar of British reserve, while the Fox is an insular hacker stereotype. A couple of collateral characters have a subdued romance, but nothing particularly surprising happens during the course of the novel. It is fun, however, to imagine that one autistic kid (with some stalwart Brits on his side) could make the world such a better place. I find it hard to dislike such an optimistic novel.

RECOMMENDED
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The idea of a hacker on the level of Rain Man who knows not what he does but just that it needs to be done forms the basis of “The Fox” [Frederick Forsyth/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/304pgs] which has a young brilliant British super hacker who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The book does not follow his thought process but rather a former British bureau chief as he tries to outsmart his Russian counterpart in a post Cold War all digital world where everything can be manipulated by computer. What is undeniably intriguing that the book does. much like “The Hunt For Red October”, is its use of old school manipulation and counter offensive techniques to get the job done. Ultimately it always comes back to the human element. Also the book feels very current and is in its references without making specific naming of certain players. However it’s the perception and interrelation of politics in terms of North Korea and the Russians that seem particularly spot on. Some of the set pieces including the beaching of a submarine on a sand bar which was just being used as a form of intimidation seems particularly well played. In an age of “Mission Impossible” where it is trying to be cutting edge, this book achieves the modern feeling without becoming too technical, as well as engaging and quick without losing the human edge. The essence also shows counter intelligence and misdirection as it should be shown, not like “Red Sparrow” which despite its best intentions focused too much on character instead of the end game. The end game here works well but like “Skyfall”, it understands that everything is cyclical.

B

By Tim Wassberg
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Frederick Forsyth has written a novel-as-wish-fulfillment thriller.  When the USA’s most guarded computer system is hacked, the trail leads back to a computer in a town northwest of London. Retired spymaster Adrian Weston soon realizes that he has found a formidable weapon in the new Cold War: the amazing brain of an autistic teenager.  In a world made more dangerous through cyberwarfare, Luke will prove to be the weapon that may tip the balance in favor of the west — if he can survive.
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Sometimes, you just want a rock solid spy story, like John LeCarre or Frederick Forsyth might write…recently, I did, and fortunately (thanks to Penguin Group/ G.P.Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley) I had a copy of Forsyth’s latest novel, The Fox, provided to me in exchange for an honest review. 

The protagonist is the former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service,  Adrian Weston. One night, in a middle of the night call from the Prime Minister, he is awakened with the news that the Pentagon, the NSA, and the CIA have all been hacked at once, despite the incredibly strong security and supposedly impenetrable firewalls. It turns out the hacker is a young teenager from the UK, code-named "The Fox." 

Weston has an idea that he runs past both the U.S. President and the British Prime Minister, to use "The Fox" and his talents to hack into the systems of other countries, to the benefit of the UK and the US. 

The story has the typical Forsyth attention to details and knowledge of international espionage, as well as some fascinating characters, and plotting that will likely make the reader wonder “what if…”. 

Great escapist fiction, 4 stars.
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It’s been a while since I read a Frederick Forsyth novel; I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this author‘s writing .  This novel moves quickly; it is more a narrative than an action story.  I liked that it didn’t get bogged down with page after page of descriptions of gun fights, etc.  Hostile encounters were dealt with matter of fact and to the point.

I don’t like stories that stretch credibility.   Scarily, I thought that just about everything that occurred in this cyber warfare tale could be very real.  The ending was a bit too convenient, but I don’t really know what would have made a better one……
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Awesome book! But I expect nothing less from the great Frederick Forsyth! 

This political thriller is "ripped from the headlines" and involves world problems and issues that are in the paper every day, from nuclear threats to cybercriminals. It also "casts" in leading roles the current president of the United States, as well as the current leaders of Russia and North Korea. 

A very fast read and exceptionally well written. Highly recommended!
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A typical Forsyth book, although not his best. It's a quick read. The biggest issue is that the subplots are too widespread - Russia, Iran, and North Korea, with no real connection except for a couple of characters. It's more like 4 novellas.
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I love when Forsyth, under the guise of fiction,  writes the truth about what’s happening in the world today, especially with this excellent and riveting story line. The book grabbed me in the first sentence where  under the cover of night commandos are raiding a home in England with suspected dangerous terrorists inside. Instead what they find inside completely shocks them, and a story begins. Fast paced action where once again Forsyth  brilliantly  takes us into the world of espionage with all its secrets. Thank you for the advanced copy. I highly recommend.
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I don’t remember the last time I read a novel by Frederick Forsyth, but I certainly will be looking for ones I’ve missed.  The Fox is nothing short of a terrific read.  It careens at a fast pace, taking on most of the major contemporary global threats.  Clearly, Mr. Forsyth has done his homework and applied his considerable writing skills to the story of Luke Jennings and his ability to penetrate the world’s most deeply secured computers.  Would that we really had someone with Luke’s abilities as well as someone as wise and courageous as Sir Adrian, who is brought back from retirement to oversee this very delicate operation, on our side.  Hopefully, we do.  While the ending is a bit of a cop-out, it is nonetheless necessary.  The Fox will appeal not only to Forsyth devotees but to all readers interested in espionage and global politics and events.
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I haven’t read a book by Frederick Forsyth for a while and this one brought back why he is one of the premier thriller writers of all time. 

An 18 year old young man with Asperger’s takes center stage with his amazing hacking skills so what do British Intelligence do?  Why put those skills to nefarious use while irritating the Russians, North Koreans and Iranians, (with a little help from the Americans and the Israelis.). Now the British must keep their young protege alive long enough to do considerable damage to our enemies.

I loved the back and forth with the intelligence agencies, but felt the storyline was a little long. All in all, a good read,
 
Recommended!
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This twisting and turning look into International espionage is Mr Forsyth's latest well researched and engrossing novel.  Following the trend begun in his "The Day of the Jackal" it is a story of the clashing of several resolute wills and delineating  the thinking of all sides opposed to each other.  The principal characters involved are basically well fleshed out and their actions based on what such individuals would probably do in real life. The style utilized in "The Fox" is one of description of events rather than the movement back and forth between individuals.  Their motivations are described in this style which in Mr Forsyth's hands does lend itself quite well to understanding them.

     Luke Jennings is a teen aged British young man that has called attention to himself through hacking into the seemingly impenetrable computer firewalls of the U.S. agencies of the NSA, the CIA and the Pentagon  The United States demands to have Luke extradited from England to face trial in the USA.  The British Prime Minister calls on Adrian Weston former chief of British secret intelligence service to attempt to intervene and prevent the extradition.  Upon meeting Luke Adrian finds that the boy is what is normally termed an "Idiot savant".  That is a person very versed in one area but silent on everything else.  His area of expertise is mastering of computer skills which allowed him to hack into the several U.S. agencies' computers.  The story turns on the manner Adrian manages to prevent Luke's arrest and than using him to turn the tables on attempts by China,  North Korea, Russia and Iran to attack the west and their allies.

     Certain events that actually occured are described as being prevented by Luke's seemingly magical hacking of impenetrable computers giving rise to counter measures by the west.   An excellent read written by one of the literary worlds master craftsmen, and again causing everyone reading his books to eagerly await Mr Forsyth's next novel.
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