Reading and Reviewing: The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the JackalI put off reading Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal for a long time, but when I found a copy lurking in my parents’ bookcase, decided to bite the bullet and give it a go. It’s not my usual style or genre, but the fact that I finished it in under a week speaks for itself. I really enjoyed it, and am still a little shell-shocked about that.

The Day of the Jackal tells the story of an anonymous mercenary hired by the OAS to assassinate President de Gaulle in 1960s France. It begins with a failed assassin attempt on de Gaulle (based on fact), then moves on to the hire of the Jackal, an unknown killer based in London. When the French government learns of the plans against de Gaulle, they set out to find the Jackal, with no known information about him or who he could be. Led by Commissaire Lebel, a small international team slowly uncover the identity of the Jackal, but by the time they discover who he is, he has changed his identity and is travelling closer to Paris in disguise. The manhunt that ensues crosses Europe, and the story ends in Paris on Liberation Day, the day the Jackal has designated as assassination day.

The pace was fast; it was an exciting, precise, well-researched thriller, and the manhunt had me turning pages faster than I imagined possible. In parts, it switched between the hunters and the hunted in quick, short paragraphs, which added to the suspense and thrill of the gap closing and widening again.

It was clever, in plot and characterisation, and the ending was pure genius. In the beginning, I felt more for the Jackal, a hired killer; by halfway through, I was rooting for Commissaire Lebel, the detective racing to find him before he assassinated Charles de Gaulle. By the end of the story, I truly disliked the Jackal.

Forsyth’s style is very precise, methodical, almost military, which works well with this story. However, there were a handful of poetic lines, at odds with the rest of the language used, which added to the mystery, such as:

“From there he drove half a mile into the forest, the headlamps lighting the gnarled shapes of the trees like ghosts reaching down with angry branches at the trespasser.”

I can honestly say I’d happily read more of Forsyth’s work if any of them are as good as The Day of the Jackal.

BBC Big Read #109

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