Book Review: The Day Of The Jackal

Published March 1, 2012 by vishalvkale

The Day of the Jackal was penned around 1971, and was set in the French Republic of the early 1960’s. The story is based partly on fact, and partly on fiction, and revolves around a plot to assassinate the then French President Charles De Gaulle. The fact part is an attempt on the presidents’ life by a French army officer {Bastien-Thiry}. The rest of the book is fiction. 
The beauty of this book is in the way it offers 3 windows into the same story: offering the reader a look from 3 view–points, which makes for fascinating reading. The 3 view points are the 3 parts of the book: The Motive of the perpetrators & the planning of the Jackal {The Anatomy of a plot}, The French investigation: How the plot is discovered and stopped, {The Anatomy of a Manhunt} and the final climatic moments,  {The Anatomy of a Kill}. This approach actually enhances your understanding, takes you deep into the plot, and gives you a 360-degree view of the the story. 
But what takes the cake is the narrative: by that I mean the way the story moves forward at a rapid pace, not stagnating anywhere even for a page- throughout the book. And this is despite the triple-change in perspective. That is the real beauty of this book. This stye has enabled a complete understanding of the entire plot in the mind of the reader, with every angle being well explained and covered appropriately. The changes have been deftly handled, with not an iota of momentum being lost along the way 

The Characters
The Jackal: The quintessential enigma; Brilliant in conceptualisation & execution; Unfortunately task-oriented
Lebel: Methodical, Sincere, Intelligent, Brllliant
General De Gaulle: Making his presence felt by his absence!!!!

Thats it. This book is about these  3 people, and no one else. There are supporting characters in plenty, but mentioning them would take away from the frontispiece of the story: Jackal Vs Lebel. De Gaulle makes his presence felt in the book more by inference than by actual presence, an approach that is far more effective than showing his presence as head of  state. 

Another hallmark is the refrain the author has shown in the book in dealing with the central character of the Jackal, and his growing enmity with Lebel. The way his identity has been built with a minimum of sensationalism is a thing to behold. That is the central point of the book: the Jackal, his identity, the style of operation and his mystery – all of which have been built not by excessive description but rather by limiting references to his past, and by his style of working, which was a master-stroke! Secondly, the other masters-stroke was in not having an equally well-developed character as his opponent. Indeed, while his opponent – Lebel – comes out as a professional equal to or better than the Jackal, the frontispiece of the book remains the Jackal 
And last but not the least: this book is about 3 characters only: Lebel, De Gaulle, and above all The Jackal. Nothing else. The book starts with that and ends with that, concentrating on that theme, with not even a single sub-plot of note. No pages have been wasted in developing sub-plots, which has made the narrative taut and rapid. Of note is also the way the persona and charisma of Charles De Gaulle looms over the book, even though his appearances are limited and far-between. 
The Story
The first part – the Anatomy of a plot – explains the motives as well as the planning in detail: Who wants to kill De Gaulle and Why, How is the Assassin hired, How the Assassin gains knowledge of his intended target, The exact steps of the planning including passports/multiple identities/Gun/Target/Site. These are covered in exhaustive detail – such that you can visualise the scene in front of your eyes. The second part – The Anatomy of a manhunt, deals with how the French discover the plot, and the hunt for the assassin across France and Britain, the manhunt in both countries leading to the ultimate foiling of the plot. The story picks up from the first suspicions of a plot, and methodically covers police routine, highlighting their failures and frustrations, the pulls and pressures in brilliant detail, going on to successes and the ever-increasing speed of the investigation.  The book continues its relentless pace in the third part: The anatomy of a kill, which is hectic and describes the way the police realize the exact date of the attempt {by gaining an understanding of the president – something the Jackal has already done!}, and how they save the day in the nick of time… 
The parts are written in three styles of writing {from the intense descriptive style in Part 1, to the urgent and hectic style in Part 2 and ending with the rapid pace  in the 3rd Part, with the beauty being in the way the tension, the pace and the narrative builds through successive pages, never slackening in between right through to the fitting finale makes this book one of a kind. Such is the attention to detail in the book that it is beyond my capabilities to even begin to write about the story beyond the broad parameters outlined above. This is a book that concentrates on detail – and has done so without slackening the pace, without compromising on the story and keeping reader interest alive throughout. 
 The Conclusion
This book is about the Jackal – and, despite your realisation that the Jackal is a criminal, a killer, you are caught in 2 minds in more than one point in the story. You feel a tinge of some undefinable regret at the defeat of the Jackal – for the story is about the Jackal. The Anti-Hero of the book, man without any scruples, ends up as the centerpiece. The rapid pace of the narrative – despite its concentration on detail – gives you no time for value judgements. Lebel has intentionally been left underdeveloped, so that the Jackal can be emphasised – which takes this book beyond the ordinary killer-chase, and elevates this into the stuff of legend that it has become!

Personally, I cant think of a single book of the Spy / Thriller Genre that quite matches it. Most other books have interludes where the pace relaxes for a bit, with romantic by-plays or scenario description- not in this one! No romantic by-plays, dilly- dallying of any kind anywhere, which makes for frantic page-turning, as the tension builds up relentlessly page after page, making it a book which you will not be able to put down till the last page.. 

This review is an edited and expanded version, which first appeared in my previous blog site

2 comments on “Book Review: The Day Of The Jackal

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