The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth (Viking, 1974) is the third of 18 thrillers from this reliable author of political intrigue and quite possibly my favorite. It is easy to forget about Forsyth’s earlier books because his stories are always set in the present or the immediate future. Re-visiting them after several years forces the reader to recall long-gone political crises, which have generally faded in the light of new calamities.
“Cat” Shannon was a mercenary fresh out of the Angolan war of independence. He was at loose ends in London when mining magnate Sir James Manson approached him and wanted to hire him to overthrow the government of a small African country. The task intrigued him, as well as the open-ended budget; just what Manson intended to do with the little third-world backwater also interested Shannon greatly, and Manson wasn’t saying.
While Shannon sent word to his friends that he had work for them and developed a comprehensive plan for a coup, he also did a little research on Sir James. He learned that Manson had a mining report from the small country of interest, showing significant deposits of valuable minerals. He also learned that the final report to the current ruler of the country had been altered to reduce the size of the deposits and increase the estimated difficulty of extraction. It was obvious Sir James intended to exploit the backwards nation for his own benefit. This plan didn’t sit right with Shannon, who, despite being a mercenary, had his own set of personal ethics. Thus one of the most satisfying stories of double-dealing I have ever seen begins.
While there are shootouts and bloodbaths aplenty, what entertained me the most in later re-readings of this book is the detailed planning of the takeover. I doubt that Cat Shannon or Frederick Forsyth are aware of the Project Management Institute or its purpose, but their plan could have come from a senior fellow of PMI. Cat identified the goal, the actions necessary to reach the goal, a timeline to complete them, the critical path, dependencies, risks with mitigations, and personnel assignments, in short, a classic project plan. It isn’t often that my world of mystery reading intersects with my world of program management, hence my fascination.
Forsyth, who received CWA’s Diamond Dagger Award in 2012, announced his retirement in 2016 and then released another thriller in 2018. It is not clear if another is in the works or if he really will stop writing fiction. In either case, his earlier books are imminently re-readable almost indefinitely.