The Dogs of War, Frederick Forsyth's 1974 bestseller about an attempt by mercenaries to topple the government of a mineral-rich African republic, was closer to fact than readers may realise.
The writer has admitted he disguised himself as a potential buyer of illicit arms in the 1970s in order to infiltrate the world of mercenaries for the purposes of researching a book, and came across a real-life plan to stage a coup.
The plot of the resulting novel also bore similarities to a foiled 2004 plan to overthrow the leader of the tiny oil-rich West African state of Equatorial Guinea, in which former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's son Mark admitted a role.
"It came about because I began to research fairly intensively the world of mercenaries and arms traffickers, black markets. That drew me to a very shady underworld," Forsyth told Reuters.
"I thought, if I'm ever going to talk to anyone ... They would have to be duped into talking to me. So I presented myself as a possible purchaser of black market arms on behalf of a patron down in Africa. That got me into the conferences."
The author, now 67, said he met with mercenaries mainly in Hamburg and Antwerp over several months and "several beers" in the early 1970s, and during those meetings the idea of overthrowing the government of Equatorial Guinea was raised.
"I began to develop the idea. And one question is whether I was too loose-lipped and enabled the idea or they mentioned it to me," he said.
|The Dogs of War is based on Forsyth's own experiences with mercenaries who sought to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea|
"I was thinking of that -- would it be feasible ... To take out an entire government. The answer was, if it's small enough, fragile and chaotic enough and badly run enough, 40 armed men should do it."
He said the plan was at an advanced stage by the time he left the Continent for Britain, but eventually it was foiled by an informant.
Forsyth recalled how he had been forced to flee Hamburg when a "friendly contact" called him to warn that the mercenaries had discovered his real identity.
He was subsequently told that the man who was after him had seen his picture on the back cover of a German edition of his 1971 thriller The Day of the Jackal.