The Day of the Jackal

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The Day of the Jackal
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Written by: Frederick Forsyth
Central Theme:
Synopsis: A professional assassin is hired by a French dissident paramilitary organisation to kill Charles de Gaulle.
Genre(s): Thriller
First published: June 7, 1971
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The Day of the Jackal is Frederick Forsyth's most famous novel, by some margin.

The year is 1963. Following France's defeat in the Algerian War of Independence, a group of far-right terrorists hire an assassin to kill French President Charles De Gaulle. The government, consisting of the entire French Cabinet, can't figure out who the assassin is, only that he has a code name: The Jackal. So they have to get the best detective there is: Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel, who is given unlimited authority to capture or kill The Jackal, with only two requirements: no publicity, and do not fail.

We follow along as the Jackal's plans proceed with inexorable precision, as the police struggle to stop the actions of a man of whom they do not know, have no name, have no picture, and aren't even sure if what he plans to do is a real threat or simply what a captured terrorist has given up during interrogation after being tortured to death. Also, Lebel doesn't know that the terrorists have infiltrated the French Cabinet by hooking up one of its members with a Honey Trap mistress who extracts valuable information to pass on to the Jackal. After the members of the cabinet tire of Lebel using the authority they granted him to find the cabinet member who is leaking information, they essentially fire him, thinking they can find the Jackal easily enough. When that doesn't work, they reluctantly call Lebel back, in desperation, because the Jackal has eventually disappeared, and they need to find him before he carries out the assassination.

The Day of the Jackal has been adapted to screen multiple times - in the famous 1973 film The Day of the Jackal starring Edward Fox (of the Fox acting dynasty) that runs for nearly three hours, the 1988 Malayalam film August 1 directed by Sibi Malayil, and the 1997 film The Jackal. Other than the 1973 film, these are only loosely based on the novel.

Tropes used in The Day of the Jackal include:
  • Arms Dealer
  • Bad Habits: One of the Jackal's disguises is a Danish clergyman.
  • Bank Robbery: The Jackal suggests the OAS carry out some of these to fund his fees.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The OAS are far-right terrorists who tortured during the war in Algeria. Their opposition are not much less authoritarian in outlook and torture a captured OAS member.
  • Career Killers: The Jackal is a definite Assassin.
  • Cold Sniper: The Jackal himself, though occasionally he snaps.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: The Jackal plans to assassinate Charles De Gaulle at a public event,notably the award ceremony on Liberation Day, the one occasion he can be certain the President of France will turn up, no matter what threats have been made against his life.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Done to a blackmailing photographer.
  • Electric Torture: With crocodile clips to the testicles. The subject dies.
  • Eucatastrophe: The Jackal actually manages one shot at De Gaulle before he gets killed.
  • Faux Yay: The Jackal pretends to be gay to sneak past a French manhunt, counting on the homophobia of the policemen.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The narrative points out near the beginning that De Gaulle died several years later of natural causes.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: The Jackal is characterized as similar to this type, albeit an evil version.
  • Gray Eyes: The Jackal has them.
  • Groin Attack: A would-be blackmailer gets this before the Jackal finishes him off. Of course, the Electric Torture to the penis and testicles...
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?
  • Hero Antagonist
  • Honey Trap: One character in the book was the girlfriend of a (now dead) OAS member and she starts up a relationship with a high-ranking French official so she can learn about developments in the investigation and aid the Jackal.
  • How Did You Know? I Didn't.: Lebel taps all of the phones of the entire French Cabinet to discover a mole.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Jackal points out that it would be far easier (and more practical) for the OAS to simply get a suicidal fanatic to jump De Gaulle than to spend a fortune on an assassin.
  • Master of Disguise: The movie adaptation in turn depict The Jackal as a Master of Disguise, which Carlos was known for being.
  • Murder Simulators: Several assassins/attempted assassins are fans of the book or at least rumored to be. Carlos the Jackal got his nickname because he was mistakenly believed to own a copy. Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir was found to have a copy; while his assassination of Rabin was quite different than that the Jackal attempts on De Gaulle, it's easy to see parallels between Amir and Bastien-Thiry. Vladimir Arutyunian, who attempted to assassinate both George W. Bush and the President of Georgia, kept an annotated copy of the book as a how-to-guide.
  • Mysterious Past
  • Neck Snap: The Jackal does this a few times.
  • No Name Given: We never find out the real name of the Jackal.
  • Pressure Point: Action Service men once demonstrate their knowledge of this.
  • Red Herring: a man on British Intelligence's list of suspected assassins-for-hire has a name which suggests a Stephen Ulysses Perhero for the Jackal: Charles Calthrop ("Chacal" is French for "jackal"). He turns out to be a completely different person.
  • Reverse Mole: The OAS is so full of Action Service infiltrators that its head trusts only two others and has to rely on an outsider, namely the title assassin, for the task.
  • Scaramanga Special: The Sniper Rifle is disguised as a crutch.
  • Sedgwick Speech: Bastien-Thiry gives one before his execution.
  • Shout-Out: A fairly subliminal one, but in one section of the book it's mentioned that the head of British Intelligence plays cards at a club called Blades. Blades is from the James Bond series.
  • Shown Their Work
    • The opening assassination attempt really took place and is a very good re-creation.
    • Perhaps most notably the method where the Jackal gets a fake passport, getting a birth certificate from a person who died as a child. Forsyth got some criticism for revealing that method. In his defense, Forsyth was trying to call attention to the loophole so it would be closed, and almost the entire criminal world was already aware of the trick and had been using it for years. See this article for more -- amazingly, they only really started to close the loophole after almost 30 years.
      • A year earlier, hippie author Abbie Hoffman had refused to publicize the method in Steal This Book!, out of fear of governments closing the loophole.
  • Sniper Rifle: No surprise.
  • Spanner in the Works: Quite a few, but the most ironic one was Charles De Gaulle himself who's French, and therefore more likely to kiss a man on the cheeks instead of shaking his hand, thereby just dodging the Jackal's bullet.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: The Jackal's true identity.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Worthy Opponent: Lebel and the Jackal (Chacal in French) develop a grudging respect for each other, without ever meeting - with the Jackal again and again evading Lebel's clever traps and Lebel again and again penetrating the Jackal's clever disguises. Lebel certainly appreciates the Jackal far higher then he does the government officials he has to work with. When they at last meet face to face they look for a split second into each others' eyes, Lebel saying "Chacal" and the Jackal saying "Lebel" before they scramble to kill each other. Lebel having been a split second quicker, he on the following day attends the Jackal's burial in a nameless grave, saying nothing to the handful of other people present.
  • Your Head Asplode: Not 100%, but that's the Jackal's aim. Witness the watermelon scene.

The 1974 film provides examples of:

  • Bi the Way: The Jackal is certainly not averse to picking up a guy in a Turkish bath in order to get a bed for the night.
  • Blown Across the Room: To save himself from being shot, Lebel grabs a machine gun in desperation, and the bullets splash his target spread-eagle into the wall.
  • Hollywood Silencer
  • Master of Disguise: The character (along with Jason Bourne) is heavily influenced by the real life terrorist Carlos "The Jackal", who was a Master of Disguise. This is carried over into the remake film, The Jackal.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The war veteran identity, which justifies the crutches in which he hides his Scaramanga Special.
  • Shirtless Scene: Quite a few.
  • Source Music: Opening narrative or at least the last part of it is apparently spoken by a newsman on the radio OAS members are listening to.