Book Review: The Kill List by Fredrick Forsyth


“In Virginia, there is an agency bearing the bland name of Technical Operations Support Activity, or TOSA. Its one mission is to track, find, and kill those so dangerous to the United States that they are on a short document known as the Kill List.”


For years, Fredrick Forsyth has been synonymous with “The Day Of Jackal” for me. It is somewhat unfair on an author when he has a long list coming after his best work, because nothing really ever matches up to the earlier one. So, I will try to be fair, and do away with any comparison.

 So, standalone, where does The Kill List stand? Well, I found it to be a middle of the road book. Offers enough for you to finish it off in a smooth read. Doesn’t offer enough for you to stay with it for long once you are done.

The book is set around a mysterious islamic preacher whose inflammatory sermons in the post 9-11 world are turning individuals into fanatic and killers. With more than 10 attacks across US and UK, an ex-armed forces agent, now known as The Tracker, working with TOSA, is on the chase, which becomes a little too personal, when one of the assassins kills his father. The hunt is on. The methods not strictly legal.

The book jumps between Pakistan, Afghanistan, UK, Somalia, Sweden, US and a few other places, perfectly aided by cutting edge spy tech, some chance coincidences involving Somalian pirates, and a level of juvenile cyber infiltration usually not expected from Forsyth, to get to the man, and do the clean up job. All this – To kill The preacher, the one with amber eyes.

The core hunt of the book, in Forsyth style, is about less than half of the book. The rest of it, expectedly, is spent on detailing detailing the incidents, and building the character of the Tracker. After a while, going through these attacks becomes mundane and boring. Someone is killed, and the killer’s apartment or laptop has sermons by a mysterious preacher whose face is not revealed. The real motives and inspiration for the preacher never really come out. Nor does the reason for his influence. Not a lot of ink spent on the characterization of the fanatics. What is done well is a detailing of the Tracker, the man on the job.


There isn’t any new flavor to this story. There is an attempt to ride on the Operation Geronimo that took out bin laden, with explanations given around why similar tactics could not be deployed, and the difference in the modus operandi of this new guy. The book remains a very basic well written book about the hunt for a criminal. Good guy, bad guy and a very smart good guy using cutting edge infrastructure to nab a very smart bad guy. Except that you hardly see the genius of the evil mastermind. Its over simplified. In the end, for most part, it is an exploit for young Ariel, the hacker whiz kid, making the entire intelligence apparatus look like ponies.


Forsyth effortlessly blends the narrative with his style of detailing each and every scene. So much so, that it seems ready to be a movie’s screenplay, and I would not be surprised if its picked by some Director with a limited imagination. The high point of the book is the effortless ease with which you can finish off the book.


The Kill List is something that you should pick for a long flight. Finish it, and leave it in the craft for the next traveller. Its not worth hanging on to it, or increasing your shoulder bag’s weight for.

The Reading List

The bed side has 5 books right now –


City Adrift (hardcover) by Naresh Fernandes–
I am halfway through the book, and it has been a dry but intriguing narrative about Mumbai, its past, its cultural evolution, and its people. I am learning a lot of things about the city that I have been a part of for the last seven years. For the content, the narrative could have been a little more fluid. But I am not exactly complaining.

Amar Akbar Anthony by Siddharth Bhatia

Harper Collins had started this series of books on some of the cult movies of Bollywood. They were supposed to be a behind the scenes insight on how those movies happened to be. Jai Arjun Singh’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is probably the best of the lot. Deewar, probably the worst. AAA, so far, has been a disappointment, with a little over a chapter of a thin book wasted on telling us the story. Damn it, you’ve picked a cult movie, and the person interested in the behind-the-scenes is someone who already knows the story. Get it?

Mirza Ghalib by Gulzar (Hindi) 

For those who have seen the TV series many a times, the books is a parallel running compendium. For those who have not, and enjoy good old fashioned storytelling (albeit in Urdu heavy Hindustani), there is a lot of Mirza in this beautiful book.

The Kill List by Fredrick Forsyth

Starts off in the usual FF way. The narrative and context setting is going on. The intrigue is setting in. The context is a mysterious preacher who has a confounding effect on individuals turning them into murderous fanatics, before and after 9/11. I will come back with a more detailed review later on.


The Casual Vacancy – by J K Rowling

This one’s going to be a difficult one to finish. I am halfway through, but everytime I drop the book, going back to it is a challenge.


I recently finished reading Siddharth Tripathi’s The Virgins. Detailed reviews is pending, but for small-town-desis, its an extremely relatable book. The big positive – the easy narrative style. The big negative – the effort that has gone into developing the characters. However, works perfectly, if you want to pick something for an easy flight read or a quick weekend read.


What are you reading?

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