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His name was Frederick Forsyth. He was 31 years old and, by his own account, flat broke. Needing money quickly, he did what any self-respecting hack would have done: he wrote a thriller. Initially entitled The Jackal, it told the story of an unnamed assassin hired to kill President de Gaulle.
The novel took Forsyth just 35 days to write. He had no great literary aspirations and certainly no intention of revolutionising an entire genre. Forsyth's heroes were John Buchan and Rider Haggard : he simply wanted to tell a riveting story.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the novel's publication. Before, thrillers were self-evidently works of the imagination. Forsyth changed all that; never before had a popular novelist created a world that seemed indistinguishable from real life.
His debut had a documentary sense of realism that all but convinced the public they were reading a work of non-fiction. How Forsyth managed to achieve all this is a story worth telling.
In his mids, he had been posted as a journalist to Paris. What if the OAS hired a professional hitman, who was able to penetrate the rings of security around De Gaulle? Forsyth had befriended several of the president's bodyguards; he had even reported from the scene of a failed assassination attempt — an account of this real-life incident opens the novel. Forsyth had something else in his favour. In Biafra, he'd met many mercenaries, who had taught him about the European underworld: how to obtain a false passport; where to buy a custom-made rifle; how to break a man's neck.
All of this knowledge was poured in. Yet the novel was still a risk, not least because the ending was already known — De Gaulle had died in his bed in The first four publishers Forsyth sent the manuscript turned it down.
A thriller set in France with an unnamed anti-hero who fails in his mission? Forget it. Eventually, one man took a chance. Harold Harris, of Hutchinson, agreed to a modest initial print run of 8, copies. Well, it worked. The Day of the Jackal became a word-of-mouth sensation. Hutchinson has lost count of how many millions of copies the book has sold.
The Jackal is the obverse of that other great English assassin — James Bond. Alas, he has also influenced some of society's less attractive elements. That The Day of the Jackal has become a handbook for maniacs should not be the book's lasting legacy. Few writers can claim to have changed the literary landscape. Forty years ago, a penniless British journalist, unwittingly or not, did just that.
Opinion Thrillers. This article is more than 9 years old. Charles Cumming. Forty years on, few books have changed the literary landscape like Frederick Forsyth's political thriller.
Frederick Forsyth wrote The Day of the Jackal in just 35 days. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian.
Published on Fri 3 Jun I n , a young British journalist returned to London after spending 18 months reporting on the Biafran war.
Readers’ Review: “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth
Frederick Forsyth lets MI6 spy secret out in tell-all memoir. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service. ET Magazine.
The Day of the Jackal
His name was Frederick Forsyth. He was 31 years old and, by his own account, flat broke. Needing money quickly, he did what any self-respecting hack would have done: he wrote a thriller. Initially entitled The Jackal, it told the story of an unnamed assassin hired to kill President de Gaulle. The novel took Forsyth just 35 days to write.
The Jackal or Carlo Shannon: Which is your fave Frederick Forsyth character?
The Day of the Jackal is a thriller novel by English author Frederick Forsyth about a professional assassin who is contracted by the OAS , a French dissident paramilitary organisation, to kill Charles de Gaulle , the President of France. The novel received admiring reviews and praise when first published in , and it received a Best Novel Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The OAS, as described in the novel, did exist, and the book opens with an accurate depiction of the attempt to assassinate de Gaulle led by Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry on 22 August However, the subsequent plot is completely fictional. The book begins in with the historical failed attempt on de Gaulle's life planned by Col. Following the arrest of Bastien-Thiry and remaining conspirators, the French security forces wage a short but extremely vicious "underground" war with the terrorists of the OAS , a militant right-wing group who have labelled de Gaulle a traitor to France after his grant of independence to Algeria. The French secret service , particularly its covert operations directorate the " Action Service " , is remarkably effective in infiltrating the terrorist organisation with their own informants, allowing them to seize and interrogate the terrorists' operations commander, Antoine Argoud.