My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The first of the Frederick Forsyth books that I read during the Covid-19 lockdown period. A fascinating ensemble of characters from across the British and Soviet secret services, including the real-life traitor Kim Philby. Apparently, when this book was first published in the 80s, a copy was actually requested by Philby, who still lived in Moscow at the time.
Without giving too much away, the plot centres around a dangerous yet audacious covert attempt by the USSR to swing the result of the 1987 British General Election in favour of the Labour Party. This, given the right circumstances, they believe, will enable the hard-left to take over swiftly from the then party leader Neil Kinnock, and usher in Britain’s first Marxist-Leninist government. Their template was the takeover by Ken Livingstone of the Greater London Council earlier in the decade.
How will they do it? Will they succeed? Personally, I thought the tenets of the conspiracy were ever so slightly implausible, given that it would be difficult in practice to dislodge a national party leader who has just won a general election in the very circumstances the conspiracy demanded. Also, the legislative programme apparently intended for this new government, primarily the change in British foreign policy to withdrawal from Nato, would likely require votes in Parliament. A split Labour parliamentary party (which it would be), would by no means simply acquiesce.
However, none of this detracts in the slightest from a gripping drama that goes spans Moscow to London to Johannesburg, all the way to small English towns. One of the great aspects about Forsyth’s writing is that even the most minor of characters is as rounded as possible–hearing the mini background stories of, for example, the Glasgow police officers or a KGB driver, is one of the most enjoyable parts of reading his novels. Because of all the real-life characters mentioned or alluded to, the Fourth Protocol makes you feel like you have stepped into an alternate reality and brings to life the dangers and suspicions of the Cold War, many of which continue to persist today.