The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A slow-burning thriller with a first-class cast of characters, with the focus on the eponymous Jackal and the police detective tasked with tracking him down before he completes his assignment to assassinate the French president Charles de Gaulle.
The book is divided in three parts. The first charts the preparations by the Jackal–whose actual name we don’t ever quite know for sure–to do the assassination, after having been engaged by a French terrorist organisation (the OAS, which really did exist) in high secrecy. This involves a range of trips across Europe to gather false identities, and, crucially, to find a weapon capable of being hidden and to do the job at range.
In the second part, the plot is uncovered but the French police have no idea where to begin to look for the Jackal. After intensive investigations, Paris police detective Claude Lebel, gradually pieces together enough information to get on his trail. The Jackal however, seems always to be a step ahead. The narrative, jumping to the perspective of both the detective and the assassin, intensifies the flavour of the manhunt and shows the two men almost sparring at a distance.
In the third and final part, the Jackal closes in on Paris and prepares to do the killing. The police know that he is in the capital under a false identity but lose track of him as the Jackal goes to ground in the Paris underworld. Much to the frustration of his superiors, Claude Lebel can do no more than keep his ‘eyes and ears open’–he has an idea of the day the Jackal will strike, and the opportunities he will have. But will he get to him in time?
A first-rate thriller that not only entertains but gives historical flavour with a host of practical details about people, places, and how things work, done in a way that really adds to the story.