The Devil’s Alternative

Each good book that you read, broadens your perspective by leaps and bounds and fires your imagination in ways unimaginable. After a long period of slogging through average novels, I stumbled upon a political thriller novel by Frederick Forsyth named “The Devil’s Alternative”. And I must say, it deserves praise and applause for the way the author took forward the action-packed story with an easy grace.  He finely balanced the thin line between fiction and reality.  It kept me on the edge of my seat constantly, owing to the dramatic way the plot unfolded, mind-numbing twists and turns that caught me unawares and the cleverly written climax.

The story is set against the backdrop of the cold war era when the countries the world over, were loosely generalized as Communist or Capitalist and the two prevailing superpowers were the USA and the USSR.

USSR(Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)  is a general term for a league of several nations comprising Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary etc. It included people of more than 100 nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. To control such a vast population, it requires a huge economy, military, and natural resources. The heart of the USSR is in Kremlin inside Moscow from where the entire landmass is ruled with an iron fist with the help of KGB and the Red Army.

It is a time of unpredictable weather which leads to stunted wheat growth following which there is a shortage of hundred million tons of wheat. Fear grips the Politburo members (the main rulers of USSR), as this may lead to famine, wide-scale livestock slaughter, hunger strikes, mutiny and a probable disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Thus, the Russians seek the aid of Americans to import huge amounts of grain into the country. The Americans know of the Russian plight in advance through spy satellites and a British agent in Moscow. They see this as an opportunity to wrap the Russies round their little finger, and wring out many concessions regarding nuclear weapons and the lot, in exchange for the wheat. What follows is the Treaty of Dublin.

Parallelly, a pair of Ukrainian Jews set out on their private fight against the Kremlin, in their bid for a free Ukraine. They strike right at the heart of Kremlin by assassinating the head of KGB and flee west with the aim of reaching Israel and publishing the news to the entire world causing humiliation to the Soviet Union. They hijack a plane bound for East Germany and divert it to West Germany, accidentally killing the pilot in the process. Consequently, they are put in a jail in West Germany.

When the friends of the Ukrainian Jews in the West come to know of their capture in West Germany, they hijack the world’s largest tanker ship, the Freya, in the North Sea, which carries a million tons of crude oil. They issue an ultimatum demanding the release of the two Jews, failing which, they would vent millions of tons of crude oil into the North Sea causing the largest ecological disaster the world would foresee.

When the news of assassination becomes known to the entire world, it would deal a crushing blow to the USSR, topple the existing government and provide leeway for the opposition faction to rise to power.  The opposition faction has been against the Treaty and wanted to gain grain for the Russians by waging a war against Europe and snatching by force. A war would set back the country by at least 10 years and would lead to an even greater crisis than they are presently in. In short, it would mean the end of USSR and the start of World War 3.

Therefore, the current leader of USSR doesn’t want the hijackers to be liberated. He issues an ultimatum to the US stating that, in the event that the two hijackers are released, he would render the Treaty of Dublin ineffective.

The US desperately wanted the Treaty to be ratified as it would ensure peace on the Eastern front for at least five years, prevent the opposing faction to rise to power in Russia and thus prevent a war in Europe.

In this intricate web of blackmail, threats and diplomatic war, any way out would lead to loss of men. If the hijackers are released, the assassination of the KGB would become known to the entire world, thus destroying the Treaty of Dublin, topping the leader of USSR and leading to a war against Europe. If the hijackers are not released, it would lead to the largest ecological disaster the world would ever witness, venting a million tons of crude into the North Sea, causing irreversible damage.

How the author narrates the way out of this seemingly insurmountable impasse is what follows in the book.

I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to reveal the ultimate ace up my sleeve 😉 😉 So gear up for this power packed thriller and read till the end to know the fantastic climax!!

Kudos to Frederick Forsyth for delivering such an excellent plot! 😀 <3