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'The Veteran' (2001) is a book of five short stories from the British master storyteller Frederick Forsyth, who has been topping the best seller charts for the past thirty plus years.
I first came across Forsyth's work practically by accident, when I went to see a cracking movie back in the early 1970's called 'Day Of The Jackal', (starring Edward Fox) which told of an attempted assassination attempt on the life of the late French President Charles de Gaul by a dissident group from the OSS (French Secret Service) opposed to the granting of independence to Algeria. I so enjoyed the movie that I went out and bought the book, and I've been an avid reader of Forsyth's fiction novels ever since.
Other best selling novels followed from Forsyth, including 'The Dogs Of War', 'The Odessa File', and the brilliant 'The Fourth Protocol', which told the tale of an attempt by the old Soviet Union to infiltrate a "suitcase" nuclear bomb into the United Kingdom. All of the above novels were adapted into feature films, the best of which was (in my opinion) the 'Fourth Protocol', starring Pierce Brosnan (007) as a Soviet spy.
Anyway, enough of Forsyth's past success as an author, and on with the review of 'The Veteran'. The book begins with the novelette from which the book takes its title.
'The Veteran' is a story about a brutal mugging on a sink estate in London that goes horribly wrong, resulting in the death of a fairly non-descript middle aged man. The police are quickly on the scene, there's a very reliable eyewitness who gives them a full description of the perpetrators, and an arrest is very quickly made.It's an open and shut case. That is, until an eminent QC (Queen's Council) suddenly appears at the mugger's solicitors, offering to defend the two young thugs for FREE! What's the reason behind his sudden generosity, and why does he go to such extraordinary lengths to get the two killers acquitted?
Well, that's the crux of the yarn, and I can't tell you any more without giving away everything. But suffice to say it will keep you guessing right up until the final few pages.
The second short story is called 'The Art Of The Matter'.
Here Forsyth explores the world of fine art dealers. An audacious scam is perpetrated on an old and established firm of London dealers, which results in their losing millions of pounds. One of the partners decides to avenge his loss, and sets up a clever plot of his own to extract vengeance on the people he suspects (but can't prove) were behind the crime. Another cleverly written story, which again will leave you wondering what exactly is going on until it all suddenly comes together at the end of the yarn.
'The Miracle' takes us to one of my favourite cities in the whole of Europe; Sienna, in the Tuscany region of Italy.
An American tourist and his wife are rushing to try to obtain a good spot to view the famous horse race, the "Palio", that takes place through the city's streets each summer. His wife slips on the cobblestones and badly sprains her ankle, and they rest up on the steps of an old square. An aging "hippy", with long greying hair and beard, and clothes that look like they came from the nearest charity shop, approaches them, and begins to tell them a tale about the ancient square, and how it had been witness to an incredible "miracle" during the Second World War, when it was used as a field hospital by the retreating German troops. Hundreds of fatally wounded soldiers had seemingly been miraculously cured by the intervention of a mysterious nun, who appeared (and disappeared) from nowhere!The American is intrigued, and listens to the tale spellbound. But is the ancient hippy all that he appears?
Another classic Forsyth story, with a "twist in the tail".
'The Citizen' is a topical story about international drug smuggling.
The authorities have got wind of a huge shipment of hard drugs due to be smuggled into Britain on a particular flight, and have inside information on one of the suspected criminals. They wait to intercept the suspect at the airport. But again, is all as it appears on the surface? Is the "Knock's" informant reliable, and have they been told the full story? As with most of Forsyth's tales, this one will have you guessing right up until the end.
Finally, the last story in the book (and my own particular favourite) is called 'Whispering Wind'. It tells the story of "Custer's Last Stand", the famous (infamous?) battle at the Little Big Horn that took place during the Indian Wars in the USA in the 19th century. It's the story of a Scout called Ben Craig who served with Custer. Craig is wrongly accused of assisting an Indian to escape, (a young woman called 'Whispering Wind') and is condemned to death by the bold and dashing General. But the Indians intervene, and wipe out the Cavalry, with the sole exception of Ben Craig.He's captured by the Cheyenne, but his life is spared because of the kindness he showed to the young Indian girl, who he then proceeds to fall madly in love with.
The tribe don't take too kindly to his plans to marry the girl, who is already betrothed to a young Indian brave. And in the meantime, the authorities have got wind of the fact that Ben has survived the battle, and are hot on his trail. Ben and his beloved squaw go on the run, pursued by both the Cavalry and the Indians, and he ends up in the high, snowy mountains where an old trapper raised him.
This is a marvellous story, and it is beautifully crafted by Forsyth. It's a terrific adventure story, and a heart-warming tale of true love, both at the same time. And once again, the ending is the last thing you would ever expect.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book of short stories by Forsyth.
My pleasure was a little unexpected, as although I rate Forsyth as an author, I generally don't particularly like this particular format of book, where often the characters are a little underdeveloped. (Because of the shortness of the stories)
But Forsyth is nothing if not clever, and he manages to grasp his reader's attention in every single one of these short stories.
Like the American author, Tom Clancy, Forsyth is renowned for the amount of detailed research that he puts into all his novels, and this shines through in the book, especially in the last story about Custer, where I actually learned things I never knew before about this so-called American "hero". He's an extremely accomplished writer, who never fails to enthrall and entertain me with his writing.
The book is available at Amazon in both hardback and paperback at prices starting at one pence.
If you like a good story, then you won't go too far wrong if you buy this book.
Originally posted at Ciao under my Ciao username "the mad cabbie". Edited somewhat for posting here at dooyo.