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Classic Thrills: THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth

A Spotlight on Classic Thrills

By José H. Bográn

Frederick Forsyth is a wonderful British author, one whose novels often get turned into films or TV serials. He’s been around for a while; in fact, the novel we’ll be discussing today was published back in 1971—even before most of his current readers were born—and that’s just another example of THE DAY OF THE JACKAL having an enduring quality. This timeless tale even appeals to young readers, even though the action is set in the swinging 60s—just like the Austin Powers films and, most recently, the hugely underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. A more daring columnist might even propose the 60s could be the new “fad” period, and we should have more books set in the era.

The plot is detailed but uncomplicated in its arc.

Book Cover: THE DAY OF THE JACKALAfter a couple of botched attempts to kill French President Charles de Gaulle in 1962 (which actually happened in real life), a terrorist organization decides the best way to assassinate the French president is to hire a pro instead. Enter The Jackal, who charges half a million dollars for the job, demanding half be paid upfront. This prompts the terrorists to perpetrate a string of store robberies to gather the funds.

We then get a glimpse at the assassin’s methodical preparations—acquiring false identifications, designing a weapon suitable for the job, and looking for an opening to take his best shot. When word of the hired hitman reaches the authorities, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues. Two top detectives are assigned to the case: Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel from the French police and Superintendent Bryn Thomas from a special branch of Scotland Yard. We witness their work pulling information from different sources, rooting out moles, and even resorting to more extreme methods to extricate information from uncooperating felons (a perfect example of the ends justifying the means. Alas, those very scenes are a product of the period, dating the book even more than the setting.

Just like all roads lead to Rome, the investigation leads to Paris on a day when President de Gaulle will make a public appearance. That date—August 25, 1963—is also rooted in real history, when the French commemorate the liberation of Paris during World War II, and the president honors war veterans. The thrill of the chase makes us suspend disbelief and, for a brief moment, even root for the eponymous Jackal to complete his job, as his masterful and meticulous plan deserves success.

The book has been adapted to film twice. The first production in 1973 was quite faithful to the book, while the second one in 1997, simply titled The Jackal, was a show of star power with Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, and Sidney Poitier in the lead. Willis, at the top of his game, exudes sophistication for his part as the assassin. Yet, the latest film revises the plot considerably, including the target, who is now an American politician.

This novel is the perfect yarn for a summer read by the beach, by the pool, or on a bench at the park; we’re not here to judge reading habits. THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats for both older and newer generations to enjoy.


Classic Thrills: THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth

José H. Bográn
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