The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

the day of the jackal

Official Thrillerfix Review by Mick Bose

10 July 2018

In its essence, The Day of the Jackal is the story of a manhunt. An assassin is hired to kill the French President, Charles De Gaulle. But the French Surete or French FBI, find out, and with the initially unwilling help of the British MI5, they begin to track him down.

What makes the book special is the story of the assassin. Throughout the book, he is referred to as the man known as Jackal, or just Jackal. We see him first in a London hotel, considering the invite he has received, to see a rebel French General.

“Then we follow him through every step of the process. The first meeting, his procurement of weapons, the development of a plan, and so on. He is an engaging character, ruthless and methodical.”

An editor told me to read the book, and learn how the most successful thrillers have strong “bad guys.” He was right. As much as the readers despise the Jackal – she cannot help but be fascinated by him. He is a killer, yes, but also a man doing his job. At some level, we feel for him.

The Jackal has a mirror in the French Surete – a man called Claude. He is the opposite of the Jackal physically, but not mentally. Claude drives the investigation, slowly getting closer to his nemesis. As the main protagonist, Claude is also fascinating – the small, henpecked husband who is married to his job. He is seemingly innocuous in physicality and assertiveness, but there is a streak of hard iron in his guts, and we see more of it as we read.

Ultimately, it’s the chase that holds us spellbound. The noose is wide at the beginning and slowly narrows. Right down to the end, to the final pull of the trigger. The pacing of the novel is great, it starts as a slow burn, establishing characters and context. The chase begins about a third of the way into the book, and gradually increases in intensity as the Surete and MI5 get closer to the Jackal.

Frederik Forsyth was himself an intelligence agent, and he worked for MI5. He was also a journalist. The realistic manner in which he details the Police and the Jackal’s respective operations is eye-opening. This is a book that has educated thriller writers for generations and continues to do so. For discerning readers, it is the ultimate story to get lost into.