Literature: The Dogs of War

"Knocking off a bank or an armoured truck is merely crude. Knocking off an entire republic has, I feel, a certain style."
Sir James Manson

The Dogs of War is a 1974 novel by Frederick Forsyth. It follows Sir James Manson, who discovers a large amount of valuable platinum in Zangaro, a People's Republic of Tyranny, and endeavors to obtain it via a discreet coup d'état. For this end, he employs Cat Shannon, a mercenary, who is given a hundred days to gather his team and make the strike. The rest of the book follows Shannon as he gathers his old friends and prepares for it.

This book is a famous example of Shown Their Work; Forsyth spent time covering the Nigerian Civil War, and drew heavily from his experiences there. Several people have even tried to carry out coups in real life based on the methods presented within. Forsyth actually pretended to be overthrowing the government of Equatorial Guinea based on the very methods he later put into the book, although it is not quite clear whether he would have actually succeeded.

Made into a 1980 movie starring Christopher Walken.

This book contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Sir James Manson.
  • Anonymous Ringer: Several: Biafra, 'General' Ojukwu and even Forsyth himself all play major roles in the plot without ever being explicitly named.
  • Apathetic Citizens: In The Movie the reporter gripes about how everyone watching his documentary on Zagaroo switched to the Miss Universe contest as soon as they saw there was nothing interesting on.
  • Arms Dealer: Mostly of the legal variety, except for the one selling Schmeissers.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Roux's Hitman proves ineffectual against Langarotti.
  • Author Avatar: One of Manson's henchmen asks a freelance journalist called "The Writer" to supply him a list of the world's deadliest mercenaries. Most are real mercenaries Forsyth knew personally.
  • Badass: Cat Shannon and his entire crew of mercenaries.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Shannon gives the republic as a safe haven for immigrant workers and ends up reforming the government, but both Marc Vlaminck and Jan Dupree are dead, Semmler is killed later on in an accident with explosives, and Shannon commits suicide, though in his case he was killing himself because he had terminal cancer.
  • The Big Guy: Marc Vlaminck.
  • Border Crossing: Smuggling the Schmeissers over the French border.
  • Bulungi: Zangaro.
  • The Caligula: President Kimba.
  • Call Back: Several to Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal: one character fought with the French OAS terrorist group in Algeria, another mentions Jackal's fictional Colonel Rodin and there's a Belgian character named Goosens (albeit a different character than Jackal, where he's a gunsmith rather than a banker). Shannon also employs the same passport fraud during his travels.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The mercenaries, as one small error in smuggling arms would give them life in prison.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sir James Manson and his underlings.
  • Deadly Distant Finale
  • Decapitation Presentation: A rival mercenary puts out a contract on Shannon. One day Roux opens his mailbox and finds the hitman's head in there.
  • Dumb Muscle: What Shannon's employers make the mistake of thinking he is.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played with throughout, as Shannon and the other mercenaries have their own personal codes and moral boundaries. More evident in the film where Shannon develops genuine disgust towards Kimba's regime.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Sir James Manson ponders this trope, concluding "If they cannot be bought, they can be broken." Unfortunately for his plans, the mercenary he's hired to overthrow an African dictatorship for his own puppet ruler proves otherwise as he's Secretly Dying.
  • Friendly Fire: How Dupree meets his end, not hearing an ally's warning he accidentally runs into a grenade's blast radius
  • Grenade Launcher / Revolvers Are Just Better: The Movie had "XM-18's" (actually Manville revolver launchers) used for the climatic attack.
  • Honey Trap: Shannon sleeps with Manson's not-so-innocent daughter to get information on her father regarding what he's after in Zangaro. Somewhat subverted from the way this trope is normally played in that she never realizes how she was being used, and Shannon breaks up with her gently and respectfully when the time comes.
  • Infraction Distraction: Shannon plants a Playboy magazine and a bottle of whiskey in his luggage for the customs official to 'confiscate' so he doesn't look too closely at anything else he is bringing in
  • Ironic Nickname: "Tiny" Marc Vlaminck.
  • Ironic Echo: From The Movie — Shannon is given a local guide who apparently can't speak English. After leading him on a Wild Goose Chase he says, "In my jungle you'd be just another asshole!" After being beaten up by the secret police, Shannon is limping out of the airport when he encounters the 'guide' again, who hands him his passport while saying with a grin, "Can't leave Zangaroo without your passport, asshole." Shannon gets his payback during the final attack however, when this asshole has the misfortune to be in Kimba's palace.
  • Knife Nut: Langarotti, who is always sharpening his blade.
  • Kill 'em All: The only member of the group left alive at the end is Langarotti ...maybe.
  • London Gangster: Locke, Simon's Bodyguard in Africa is mentioned to have been an enforcer for the Krays He makes the mistake of thinking an East London Hard Man would be a match for a trained merc
  • Manly Tears: Upon Jan Dupree's death, by his aide.
  • Mutual Kill: Kimba's KGB bodyguard and Tiny Marc
  • No One Gets Left Behind: In The Movie the mercenaries insist on taking one of their dead comrades with them on the last plane out of the country.
  • Out-Gambitted: Manson and his cronies.
  • Private Military Contractors: Shannon and company.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: Zangaro, though later changed.
  • Properly Paranoid: The mercenaries about smuggling arms, because one error will get them all life in prison.
  • Rival Turned Evil / Driven by Envy: Roux and Shannon.
  • Shown Their Work: The entire book.
  • Stock Quotes / Literary Allusion Title
  • Redshirt Army: Kimba's forces, mostly due to not having workable guns — Kimba is more afraid of a coup than an invasion. His army is merely a thuggish show of force meant to keep order.
  • Secretly Dying: Mercenary leader "Cat" Shannon has been diagnosed with cancer, which motivates his betrayal of his employers as a final act of virtue.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted. The gun and mortar fire deafens Dupree so he doesn't hear a warning about a grenade.
  • There Are No Good Executives
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Semmler was in the Hitler Youth and the Belgian the group buys the MP-40s from was an SS cook.
  • War for Fun and Profit

Alternative Title(s):

The Dogs Of War