January 19, 2018
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“The Day of the Jackal” Review

By: Berniece Owen
December 29, 2017
by Frederick Forsyth. N.Y. Viking Press, 1971.

Once again, a recommendation by a friend has directed me to a fascinating new author, new to me that is. The book was published in 1971 and the movie that followed came out in 1973.  Both were well received and the author, Frederick Forsyth, was launched into a new career writing international thrillers.  He had a background in journalism as a news reporter for Reuters and the BBC.  He covered stories in Berlin and Paris and these experiences provided a solid base for this story, which follows a British assassin through European capitals as he works out the details of how to murder a major political leader. 

Every element of the plot is carefully told and I had an absolute sense that this could have been a real story.  The assassin with the code name of “Jackal” has commanded a huge two-part payment to perform the deed and he also makes clear to his employers that he works alone.  His experience and skills are without peer. There is no one else who can do the job. Complete secrecy is required, or the deal is off. Violators will die.

Part 1 of the book is called “Anatomy of a Plot,” and in its nine chapters (183 pages) F1orsyth follows the Jackal’s preparations for the kill and his care in choosing a get-away route.  After all, success will mean nothing to him if law enforcement grabs him before he can enjoy a rich retirement with the proceeds of the job. There is very little dialog, but readers will be seduced by the clear picture of an educated and skilled professional hit man with absolute focus on the job he has been hired to do. There is practically no information shared about his past, we just know that he is the best.

Part 2 of the book is called “Anatomy of a Manhunt.” In its eight chapters (150 pages) Forsyth turns to focus on the international police network that mobilizes to stop the assassination. It turns out that secrecy is difficult, in fact impossible, to maintain. As Benjamin Franklin said most succinctly, “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” The details of the secret may be revealed in small pieces, particularly on a world political stage, but all the players have information networks, both mechanical and human, that excel at uncovering and understanding secrets. In this story, the human element takes the form of a rumpled French policeman who lacks the charisma of the Jackal, but who takes up the chase and refuses to give up.

The final part of the book, “Anatomy of a Kill,” is told over just 43 pages in three chapters. Once all the secrets are revealed, the outcome becomes inevitable and is quickly resolved.  

Forsyth’s first thriller has a very satisfying and thrilling ending. I’m looking forward to the next titles on his list. 


Bernice Owen is a retired librarian and resides in Rohnert Park.