Monday, 15 November 1999

Frederick Forsyth: Icon (1996)

Edition: Corgi, 1997
Review number: 389

Frederick Forsyth always has interesting ideas, but his writing never does them justice. Icon is no exception to this rule. The idea - a new Hitler attempting to take power in the chaotic ruins of a Russia devastated by mega-inflation and uncontrollable organised crime - is excellent. The major problem is the narrative style. The story takes second place to exposition of the idea - the reader does not really need pages of description of fictional Russian politics, for example. Such diversions break the tension which is needed in a thriller.

The primacy of the idea also overcomes any serious attempt at characterisation, an accusation usually levelled at science fiction rather than thrillers. Icon's characters are just ciphers and stereotypes, from Igor Komarov to the Western agents trying to prevent him from gaining power. Forsyth has bought into the idea that Western is good, Eastern bad; the Russians are corrupt, the British and Americans fighting for an ideal (except of course for Russian controlled double agents).

Like the best of Forsyth's novels, The Day of the Jackal, the idea of Icon is centred around a person. In the earlier book, this forces Forsyth to overcome his limitations as a writer of characters, but Komarov does not do this. The idea is sufficiently interesting and well enough done, however, to keep you reading to the end.

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