If memory serves me correctly (alas, it has failed me on many an occasion!) this was the first Frederick Forsyth novel I’ve read. It was also his first novel, written in just 35 days! It was quite difficult to get through the first time, not just because of all the big fancy words (for a young kid!) but because of the fact that the first chapter has a documentary feel to it. Which is fine and dandy if you’re big on documentaries, I guess!
Anyway, getting down to why you’re reading this! The Day of the Jackal is set in the aftermath of the famous 1962 failed assassination attempt (one of 30-something, I think! And, coincidentally, 50 years ago! 22nd August, 1962! What are the odds?!) on Charles de Gaulle orchestrated by Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry. A lot of people had branded de Gaulle a traitor after his decision to grant Algeria independence. Hence all the assassination attempts. Not all by the OAS though. Finally realising that the only way to successfully assassinate de Gaulle would be to use someone completely outside the OAS, the top brass decide to hire an anonymous assassin (so anonymous that his name isn’t even mentioned in the book!) to do the dirty deed. The primary reason for this secrecy being that the OAS had been infiltrated by the French intelligence to the point where they managed to capture and execute their chief. Somewhere along the line, the authorities manage to get a whiff of the assassination attempt anyway, but with no clue about who the assassin is or where or even when he’s going to strike. Enter Claude Lebel, a French detective, initially tasked with establishing the identity of the Jackal.
What follows is a brilliantly crafted tale of intrigue. From how the Jackal sources and transports the weapon and ammunition, to the way he keeps eluding Lebel at every turn. How he always seems to be a step or two ahead of Lebel and his team. How Lebel manages to get leads while tracking him. I doubt anything I could say here could do justice to this book. This is the author that set the bar for people like Ken Follet, Tom Clancy and Jack Higgins, to name a few. The way he mixes facts with fiction. In fact, that’s one of the things I enjoy most about Forsyth’s writing. A lot of his books are based on solid facts, blurring the line between where the actual facts end and where his fiction begins! You’d have to do almost as much research as he did, just to figure out where facts end and fiction begins! For a little while after reading the book the first time, I actually sat and wondered, “What if it’s a true story?!” I guess I probably sound like a broken record when I say this, but that’s just how good his books are! How meticulous in his research he is.
And his influence isn’t just confined to other novelists! Yigal Amir, who assassinated the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was found to be in possession of a Hebrew copy of this book! The infamous Illich Ramirez Sanchez was nicknamed the Jackal after some overzealous reporter mistakenly reported that a copy of The Day of The Jackal was found among his possessions. Of course, you can’t blame the author for any of that. That’d be like blaming Black & Decker because I used an electric screwdriver manufactured by them to kill my neighbour’s cousin’s second uncle’s father’s brother’s goat’s owner’s neighbour with it! The book was even made into an excellent movie of the same name in 1973. The 1997 movie, The Jackal, is pretty much based on (or ripped off from, depending on how you look at it!) this book, although with the political storyline changed. The 1973 movie is way better though. And now, without further ado, read the book! Just don’t go about trying to assassinate anyone afterwards! 😀
A 5/5 for me.
– Edrill DaSilva, Guest Blogger