The Dogs of War

by Frederick Forsyth. Viking, $7.95. Mr. Forsyth’s latest tangle of plots and counterplots concerns the attempt, by an unscrupulous British tycoon, to arrange a coup d’etat in the dreadful and mercifully mythical African state of Zangaro. For this purpose, the tycoon hires a crew of experienced mercenaries who hustle about Europe assembling the necessary contraband weapons, false documents, and camouflaged transport. The author’s method of creating belief in the reader is to describe each of these deals in detail. He gives little attention to characterization, preferring the chess master approach—that is, his people are defined by their movements on the board. The result of this style of doing things is a story in which no person arouses real sympathy on the reader’s part, nor even the continuing interest based on solid dislike. The novel proceeds strictly on episodes, and while the final brawl is not only exciting but truly surprising, one reaches it only by maintaining, for over 300 pages, a virtually pathological interest in finicky financial dickerings about gunrunning and check laundering.