The Kill List
It’s been a little while since I picked up a novel by Frederick Forsyth. I’ve read a fair few in the past and, in a variation on a theme, if I were stuck on a desert island with eight books to choose to take with me instead of eight pieces of music, I’d probably include ‘The Fist of God.’
Meanwhile, back to ‘The Kill List’. Reading Forsyth’s work is a bit like watching a top-notch, hard-hitting drama documentary. Authentic, crammed with research, his novels make it hard to know where non-fiction ends and fiction begins, and who cares? And this is the other thing about his mastery of storytelling: he breaks rules to brilliant effect, one of which is the dreaded SDT.
For the uninitiated, this means ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ Still baffled? It’s an inexperienced writer’s tendency to ‘tell’ the reader what is happening, what someone does, what happened when they went to the bookshop, what they had for breakfast two days ago – I’m being deliberately flippant – instead of dramatising the event and ‘showing’ the reader. A handy way to avoid it is to insert a piece of dialogue. It’s all about keeping the narrative active. You don’t need tell the reader that someone is fed up, miserable, angry. Show us! A slightly more sophisticated version of this is when a writer tells you all there is to know about a weapon, a set of events or a character’s backstory. It translates to the reader as ‘pin your ears back and listen.’ A turn off, it can rapidly lead a reader into snooze time.
The opening pages of ‘The Kill List’ are very much along the lines of ‘pin your ears back and listen’ but, because of Forsyth’s experience, skill and mastery of his craft, the reader is eager and willing. I want to hear about the political landscape prior to the start of the story. I want to know about secret organisations with strange sounding acronyms. I want those juicy bits of knowledge that make me think about foreign policy and what shapes it. I don’t give a monkey’s if I’m told everything there is to know about the main protagonist, where he was born, to whom and what his inside leg measurement is before we get cracking.
Like I said, in the right pair of hands, rules are made to be broken. Despite the lateness of the hour when I crawl into bed, I just have to get my fix of Freddie.