(2018) is an espionage thriller written by Frederick Forsyth, a consistent New York Times
bestselling author and winner of three Edgar Awards and the Diamond Dagger Award (a lifetime achievement award). The Fox
is about an eighteen-year-old autistic hacker (codenamed The Fox) who is so brilliant at breaking computers that multiple nations want him and will stop at nothing to capture him for their own ends.
The book opens as an international cooperative of special forces conducts a nighttime raid on a house in British suburbia. They find something unexpected, but the narrative leaps back in time to show the winding political and recent historical path that led to the raid on the house in the first place.
Three months before the raid, the Americans discovered a breach in a system at the NSA’s stronghold at Fort Meade that they had believed impossible to hack. The hacker left few clues, but did not destroy, sabotage, or steal anything from the system. This leads to a three-month manhunt to find the hacker, ultimately leading them to Luke Jennings, an autistic teenager with an uncommon gift for computers. The entire family is detained and under suspicion, until it is evident that Luke is the perpetrator.
Retired spymaster Sir Adrian Weston is called in to help manage the situation. He serves as a security advisor to the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Marjory Graham (a thinly veiled stand-in for the real-life PM, Theresa May). The PM has a conundrum: they have unexpectedly discovered a boy with extraordinary talent and mental fragility, but the Americans have no sense of humor about their national security; they want him extradited to the United States. Graham also wants to avoid the public scandal and the tumult that the sitting American President— at this point, heavily alluded to be Donald Trump, even though he is not explicitly named—would cause if given the opportunity. They negotiate for a three-day grace period from the Americans. Sir Adrian brokers an international custody agreement: the British will recruit Luke into their ranks and share whatever relevant intel he gathers for them with the Americans in exchange for dropping extradition and espionage charges. Unfortunately, there is a Russian sleeper agent in the American ranks who takes note of the strange tug-of-war over a British teenager and reports it to her superiors in Moscow.
The sleeper agent’s report would have been forgotten, except that one of the Russian nuclear subs is flawlessly hacked and sabotaged. They trace the clues back to Luke and his family, and shortly afterward, Harold Jennings is found murdered in New York. Sir Adrian’s gut instinct tells him that something is wrong and that the Russians might find the boy the same way that the British and American forces did. He installs Captain Harry Williams to protect the Jennings, and he fortifies their safe house. A commando team of Russians tries to storm the house, and all six are killed.
Sir Adrian decides to remove the hacker to an army base instead of a private house. He also discovers a mole in their midst, a widower whose ten-year-old daughter has been kidnapped and held hostage to manipulate him into giving information to the enemy; they mount an operation to rescue the girl and return her to her father.
Once the Russians have been dealt with, Iran is the next target—and the next foreign power to become interested in acquiring the teenaged hacker when Luke causes the massive failure of one of Iran’s processing facilities for purifying uranium. Initially, the Iranians blame Israel, but their contacts in Moscow reveal who is responsible: Luke Jennings. Their attempt to acquire Luke is repelled.
The next country to be hacked is North Korea. Luke cracks open the North Korean mobile phone database, a heavily guarded database that contains a mine of valuable information. They are also able to smuggle General Li out of the country as a defector, and he proves to be an invaluable source of information for the West.
At the end of the book, Misha, a Russian sniper is dispatched. If they cannot capture Luke Jennings, they will kill him. This decision comes after Luke destroys one of their submarines. Sir Adrian has Luke moved up to the Highlands of Scotland, not expecting that anyone would look for him up there. A chance meeting between Captain Williams and a local forester, Stuart Mackie (who, having serves in the Black Watch regiment, knew about snipers) rouses Williams’s instincts that they are not as secure as he thought when Mackie mentions that there is someone new lurking in the forest. Once they know what they are looking for, Williams and Mackie locate Misha and snipe him before he even knows they are onto him.
At the end of the novel, Luke sustains a head injury that requires surgery after he falls on the Highlands. He survives, but the price is his extraordinary hacking ability. He becomes better adjusted, socially, but it appears that his ability to hack any computer is gone and he is no longer any use to the British government. Consequently, they bury everything to do with him; the family signs the Official Secrets Act paperwork and are paid off for their time and trouble. Mrs. Jennings marries Captain Williams, and they settle into a new normal life.
With a blend of real-world politics and espionage, this novel contains a broad cast of characters that can be difficult to keep orderly. The front matter of the book includes a comprehensive “List of Characters and Organizations,” helpfully broken into national categories: the UK, Europe, USA, Russia, Israel, Iran, and Korea.