Friday, June 14, 2013


No Comebacks by Frederick Forsyth (1982)

If you like short stories, then I recommend this fine collection by Frederick Forsyth for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

My copy of the book.
I thought I had a clear memory of authors whose novels I read in my youth. Frederick Forsyth proved me wrong. Rather my wife did when she picked up No Comebacks, a collection of ten delightful short stories. Until then, I didn't know the septuagenarian British author had written short stories. In fact, he has written two more short story collections vis-à-vis The Deceiver (1991), chronicling the career of British secret agent Sam McCready, and The Veteran (2001), an assortment of crime stories.

At least I have read most of his best-known thrillers including The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Dogs of War, The Devil's Alternative, and The Fourth Protocol. Some of these novels have been made into successful films. Admittedly, I haven't read any of his novels published in the past two decades, a disservice to a very fine writer.

Mark Sanderson liked women. For that matter he also liked Aberdeen Angus fillet steaks, medium-rare with tossed heart-of-lettuce salad, and he consumed both with equal if passing enjoyment.

This is the opening line of the first story, No Comebacks, after the title of the 332-page book. It tells us the story of Mark Sanderson, a 39-year old English magnate and philanderer who is used to having his way and getting what he wants. “Whatever Mark wants Mark gets” is his self-styled credo. He leads three lives—public, professional, and secret—without scruples. This story concerns his third life, of boredom and of his desperate need to cherish and possess the woman of his dreams. He meets her in the form of Mrs. Angela Summers, a tall and handsome woman who lives with her husband on the Mediterranean coastline in Spain. She has a brief non-sexual affair with Mark. When Angela refuses to leave her husband because he needs her, Mark plots to kill him. So he hires a Corsican assassin to get him out of the way.

‘Is youse the darkie McQueen has put on the job?’ he demanded.
Ram Lal stopped in his tracks. ‘Harkishan Ram Lal,’ he said. ‘Yes.’
‘Well get in the fecking truck,’ he said.

Surprisingly, the protagonist in the second story, There Are No Snakes in Ireland, set in Northern Ireland, is a young Indian medical student called Harkishan Ram Lal who desperately needs money to complete his education. He takes up a job with a demolition contractor in Bangor and is assigned to a wrecking crew whose foreman, Big Billie Cameron, is a 6-feet and 4-inch racist brute. He hates Ram Lal on first sight and calls him a “darkie” and a “black bastard.” Ram Lal swallows the insults and the humiliation because he needs the money to complete med school. He works with quiet resentment but he doesn’t keep still. He plots revenge. He returns to India for a week, buys a venomous viper, and takes it back to England. At the demolition site, he drops it into the right-hand pocket of Cameron’s jacket where he keeps his pipe and tobacco pouch.

You might guess how both these suspense stories end. Frederick Forsyth ensures that your guess is all wrong. He is the master of the proverbial twist in the tale. He takes you by surprise in each of the ten stories in No Comebacks that are entertaining and narrated with chilling effect. I selected these two stories because I liked them the most. I'm not surprised that There Are No Snakes in Ireland won Forsyth the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best short story. The author's telling of the sinister antics of Harkishan Ram Lal and Big Billie Cameron deserved the honour.


  1. Haven't read a Forsyth in years, I used to get 'em from the library when I was growing up.

    1. Charles, Forsyth continues to be popular among Indian readers of popular fiction. I used to read his books from the local circulating library.

  2. I used to love this author, and I enjoyed this, Jackal and a few others of his, maybe 25 plus years ago. I think I stopped reading him because of some of his political opinions. (I was probably more impulsive and reactionary back then!)

    1. Col, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is his most famous novel and it was made more popular by the film version with Edward
      Fox as the Jackal. I don't know anything about his political opinions but I remember enjoying his thrillers.

  3. I read this long back Prashant. Besides, these two stories I found the one where in a French countryside, a man recalls shooting some Irish rebels, extremely compelling. I think it is titled Duty.

    1. Neer, you're right about 'Duty' which is about a holidaying couple in Ireland. Forsyth, apparently, spent a lot of time in
      Ireland and was fascinated by the place, which explains the setting of his stories.