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When I picked up my kindle I thought one of the benefits would be easy access to some of the older books I had never gotten round to reading. The one book which kept getting 5 star ratings was Frederick Forsyth's 'The Day of the Jackal' so with little else appealing I decided to take a chance on it.
Released in 1971, the story opens with a failed plot to kill President Charles De Gaulle in 1963 by the Organisation Armee Secrete (thankfully OAS for majority of the book). This was a group which took exception (putting it mildly) to De Gaulle's decision to grant independence to Algeria in 1962. They believe that Algeria should still be part of France and decide to assassinate De Gaulle in retribution for his decision. The failed plot is quite amateurish and the leadership of the OAS decide that for the job to succeed it's time to call in a professional. So the hunt begins for the man who will ultimately be given the codename Jackal and tasked with killing the President of France.
I thought this was an excellent book. My worry was that with it being written so long ago that it would not stand up to a modern day thriller. I could not have been more wrong. Of course there are elements of the book that are dated. People being uncontactable for days on end, customs being a matter of hoping certain bags wouldn't be looked into and people viewing £1,000 as a huge sum of money all remind you of how long ago this book was set. Having said that, the lack of contact adds hugely to the story. This is something the modern author cannot do given the number of methods of contact these days. In fact the lack of contact between anyone in this book opens up a lot of angles. Things which would be resolved by a quick phone call these days are left so that different interpretations can be made. This is something Forsyth does well and I found myself smiling on a couple of occasions at how he had worked the angles.
This is a work of fiction but Forsyth cleverly sets it against real details, people and organisations. The story is very cleverly written in terms of it being told from the viewpoint of the OAS and ultimately through their hired assassin. You naturally side with these people given the story is told from their point of view but instinctively you know what they are doing is wrong. Throughout the entire book you have these conflicting feelings, especially the better you get to know the Jackal. However, it seems like each time you develop an affinity with his character his actions quickly remind you what he is doing is wrong.
Whilst the story has a huge scale at the beginning it develops into a manhunt as the French police begin to get details of the hired assassin. The story becomes less about the objective, which is days away, and more about a battle of wits between the lead detective and the Jackal as the cat and mouse chase develops. The map shrinks as the authorities discover more and more about the hitman. Their initial information is only his codename and a very vague description. It was intriguing seeing how their enquiries advanced from working with scraps.
The plot advances slowly in places but even that works well. The Jackal is working towards a specific date and has time to kill so you spend days with him where his main objective is just to remain invisible. Even these aspects were brilliantly written and always entertaining.
What I admired most about the story was how plausible every plot advancement was. A lot of thriller writers rely on coincidence or long shots. There was none of that here. Just logical policework and clever actions on behalf of the Jackal. As the reader you are told what the Jackal is doing and then it is left up to you to fathom the reasoning behind it. This happens simultaneously with the detectives trying to find him. Again this works well, giving the reader an opportunity to second guess the Jackal's reasoning before it is revealed.
The pace of the book picks up rapidly towards the end as the central characters come to their inevitable showdown. This was described expertly and you could picture the scene exactly from the vivid description (I haven't seen the film yet so had no pre-conceived ideas about any characters or settings).
Some parts of the book did make me laugh. When one detective calls someone a 'sod' we are told that the other detective would never do this as he doesn't use strong language. In addition 'The Jackal' uses some ingenious ways of maintaining his low profile. Whilst there is usually a lethal edge to it he does get in some bizarre circumstances.
A lot of the book is set in France and Forsyth does an odd thing by inserting the odd line of dialogue in French (usually the simple stuff) before switching the conversation back to English, even though the whole conversation would have been in French. This is just a small thing but it jarred when he dropped it in. He also has to explain certain French customs that are common knowledge now but I guess the average reader may not have had much access to continental Europe in the early seventies.
As a final point on the book, the closing page is excellent and fitting for such a story. There are other elements which are unresolved but you feel that this story has been told.
As with all great stories you immediately want to dig deeper into the subjects raised. Since reading the book I have spent a fair bit of time reading about some of the characters, organisations and the decision to grant independence to Algeria.
The kindle version was excellent. Probably the best one I have read so far, there were no issues with formatting at all.
Currently available for £4.99 in paperback and £4.74 on Kindle.
Frederick Forsyth's "The day of the jackal" is so well written, that I had a hard job remembering that it is after all only a story and not an account of true events. The plot sees an English political assasin, codenamed the Jackal, hired by an underground French anti De Gaulle movement to kill the French President, General Charles De Gaulle.
The Jackal is a master of disguise, and seemingly always one step ahead of French security force efforts to trap him. When he senses the net about to close around him, he is able to transform completely into a different identity with the aid of forged passports and hair dye.
His trail on the way to kill the President takes him to Austria, Italy, Belgium, Denmark and ultimately France where he has worked out the one day of the year that the President's pride will enable the Jackal a clear shot at the exposed leader.
Does the Jackal manage to get that one shot and kill the French President? Wait and see!
The book's style is so matter of fact that I was left wondering whether or not Frederick Forsyth was himself involved in these events, they were written about so realistically.
Very convincingly written and a gripping tale, unputdownable.
'The Day of The Jackal' was written by Frederick Forsyth and is the second novel of his that I have read, the first being the 'The Fourth Protocol'. The thing that I wondered at the end of both novels is, how can this be fiction. In 1962 France gave Algeria Independence, there were people in Algeria who wanted it to still be part of the French empire these being French Nationals, French Army Personnel and members of the French Foreign Legion and as a result these people formed the O.A.S. (Organisation de l'Armée Secrète - Secret Army Organization ). These people decided that De Gaulle had made the wrong choice as their fellow men had died in Algeria, people died and for what, nothing. 'The Day of The Jackal' is about 3 senior members of the OAS who decide to take matters into their own hands as their organisation is riddled with defectors and spys, they decide to assassinate De Gaulle. Their had been a previous attempt on De Gaulle?s life by the OAS which had failed, this meant that they would have to employ the services of an external service, a professional assassin, The Jackal. The senior OAS men hire the services of the assassin for half a million pounds, which may not seem much now to kill a president but it was then. They O.A.S. generals then hide out in a hotel in Italy secured by mercenaries to protect against attacks from De Gaulle?s men. A spurt of bank robberies followed to gain the money which they did not have and as a result the French authorities where aware that not all was going fine on the home front although they didn?t know what these robberies where for. A bodyguard and a loyal servant from the days of Algeria of the O.A.S men was captured when he was told to leave the country and see his daughter who was dying, the only person of importance to him, he went and was captured then integrated by French Authorities, they found out about the Jackal and the assassination attempt, but they didn?t know who
or how. The person in charge of finding The Jackal with only his codename is a French Police Commisaire, Claude Lebel, he must operate in total secrecy, the press must not know that a nationwide manhunt is happening. It is only later on in the book is Lebel actually allowed to break secrecy and have a nationwide manhunt for 'The Jackal' after the murder of a well respected lady. De Gaulle?s reputation as a strong man must not be compromised! During Lebel's operations with his fellow detective, Carron who he had assigned to him, Lebel encountered problems with a rather pragmatic minister called St Clair who later proved to be more of a problem as his mistress turned out to be an O.A.S infiltrator, on finding out he resigned. This minister tried to call into question everything that Lebel decided to do and was the first to criticise and the last to congratulate. 'The Day of The Jackal' is one of the best novels I have ever read, Forsyth pays meticulous attention to detail, he keeps you fully informed about the situation but yet you feel that you should just read the next page, then the next and so on. The book is immensely entertaining; it mixes real history with fiction to produce a truly brilliant concoction of action, drama and suspense. The amazingly realistic and interesting set of characters makes the story more readable, they are people to whom you either love or loathe, the characters range from the Assassin who acts like a true gentleman to a rather large OAS gorilla who cares about one person more than anyone, no not himself but his daughter. I suggest that if you are thinking of buying the book, DON'T THINK DO! It is a brilliant book that will keep you thinking and wondering, can this possibly be fiction. Jimmy © James D 2002
Frederick Forsyth's bestselling thriller tells the story of an anonymous Englishman who, in the spring of 1963, was hired by Colonel Marc Rodin, Operations Chief of the OAS, to assassinate General de Gaulle and to change the course of history. One of the most celebrated thrillers ever written, "The Day Of The Jackal" is the electrifying story of an anonymous Englishman who, in the spring of 1963, was hired by Colonel Marc Rodin, Operations Chief of the O. A. S. , to assassinate General de Gaulle.