The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal
The Day of the Jackal  
First edition cover
First edition cover
Author(s) Frederick Forsyth
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Spy, Thriller, Historical novel
Publisher Hutchinson
Publication date 7 June 1971
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 358 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-09-107390-1 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number 213704
Dewey Decimal 823/.9/14
LC Classification PZ4.F7349 Day3 PR6056.O699

The Day of the Jackal (1971) is a thriller novel by English writer Frederick Forsyth, about a professional assassin who is contracted by the OAS, a French terrorist group of the early 1960s, to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France.

The novel received admiring reviews and praise when first published in 1971, and it received a 1972 Best Novel Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

While the OAS did exist as described in the novel, and the book opens with an accurate re-enactment of the attempt on the life of President de Gaulle led by Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, the remaining plot is fiction.


Plot summary

Part One: Anatomy of a Plot

The book begins with the historical, failed attempt on de Gaulle's life planned by Col. Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry in the Paris suburb of Petit-Clamart. After Bastien-Thiry's arrest, 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 labeled de Gaulle a traitor to France after his grant of independence to Algeria. The French secret service is remarkably effective in infiltrating the terrorist organization with their own informants, allowing them to kidnap and neutralize the terrorists' chief of operations, Antoine Argoud. The failure of the Petit-Clamart assassination, and a subsequent attempt at the Ecole Militaire, coupled with Bastien-Thiry's eventual execution by firing squad, likewise cripples the morale of the terrorists.

Argoud's deputy, Lt. Col. Marc Rodin, carefully examines their few remaining options and determines that the only way to succeed in killing de Gaulle is to hire a professional assassin from outside the organization, someone completely unknown to either the French authorities or the OAS itself. After inquiries, he contacts an Englishman (whose name is never given), who meets with Rodin and his two principal deputies in Vienna, and agrees to assassinate de Gaulle for the sum of $500,000 (about $3.6 million in 2010 dollars). The four men agree on his code name, "The Jackal."

The remainder of Part One describes the Jackal's exhaustive preparations for the assassination. First, he acquires a legitimate British passport under a false name, under which he plans to operate for the majority of his mission. He also steals the passports of two foreign tourists visiting London who superficially resemble the Jackal, for use in an emergency.

Using his primary false passport, the Jackal travels to Belgium, where he commissions a specialized sniper rifle of great slimness from a master gunsmith, and a set of forged French identity papers from a master forger. After exhaustively researching a series of books and articles by, and about, de Gaulle, the Jackal travels to Paris to reconnoiter the most favorable spot and the most likely day for the assassination.

After orchestrating a series of armed robberies in France, the OAS is able to deposit the first half of the Jackal's fee in his bank in Switzerland.

At the same time, the French secret service, curious about the actions of Rodin and his subordinates, fake a letter that lures one of Rodin's bodyguards to France, where he is captured and interrogated, before dying. Interpreting his incoherent ramblings, the secret service is able to piece together Rodin's plot, but without knowing the name or the exact description of the assassin.

When told about the plot, de Gaulle (who was notoriously careless of his personal safety) refuses, absolutely, to cancel his public appearances, modify his normal routines, or even allow any kind of public inquiry into the assassin's whereabouts to be made. Any inquiry, he orders, must be done in absolute secrecy.

Roger Frey, the French Minister of the Interior, convenes a meeting of the heads of the French security forces. Since Rodin and his men have taken refuge at a hotel in Rome under heavy guard, they cannot be captured and interrogated. The rest of the meeting is at a loss to suggest how to proceed, except a Commissioner of the Police Judiciare, who reasons that their first and most essential step is to establish the Jackal's identity, which is a job for a detective. When asked to name the best detective in France, he volunteers his own deputy commissioner, Claude Lebel.

Part Two: Anatomy of a Manhunt

Granted special emergency powers to conduct his investigation, Lebel does everything he can to discover the Jackal's identity. He first calls upon his "old boy network" of foreign intelligence and police contacts to inquire if they have any records of a top-class political assassin. Most of the inquiries are fruitless, but in the United Kingdom, the inquiry is eventually passed on to the Special Branch of Scotland Yard, and another veteran detective, Superintendent Bryn Thomas.

A search through Special Branch's records turns up nothing, but one of Thomas's subordinates suggests that if the assassin primarily operated abroad, he'd be more likely to come to the attention of the Secret Intelligence Service. Thomas makes an informal inquiry with a friend of his on the SIS's staff, who mentions hearing a rumor from an officer stationed in the Dominican Republic at the time of President Trujillo's assassination. The rumor states that a hired assassin stopped Trujillo's car with a rifle shot, allowing a gang of partisans to finish him off; and moreover, that the assassin was an Englishman, named Charles Calthrop.

To his surprise, Thomas is summoned in person by the Prime Minister (unnamed, but likely intended to represent Harold Macmillan), who informs him that word of his inquiries has reached higher circles in the British government. Despite the enmity felt by much of the government against France in general and de Gaulle in particular, the Prime Minister informs Thomas that de Gaulle is his friend, and that the assassin must be identified and stopped at all costs. Thomas is handed a commission much similar to Lebel's, with temporary powers allowing him to override almost any other authority in the land.

Checking out the name of Charles Calthrop, Thomas finds a match to a man living in London, said to be on holiday in Scotland. While Thomas confirms that this Calthrop was in the Dominican Republic at the time of Trujillo's death, he does not feel it is enough to inform Lebel. But then one of his junior detectives realizes that the first three letters of his Christian name and surname form the French (and Spanish) word for Jackal, Chacal. Thomas calls Lebel immediately.

Unknown to any member of the council in France, the mistress of one of them (an arrogant Air Force colonel attached to de Gaulle's staff) is actually an OAS agent. Through pillow talk, the colonel unwittingly feeds the Jackal a constant stream of information as to Lebel's progress.

The Jackal enters France by way of Italy, driving a rented Alfa Romeo sports car with his special gun hidden in the chassis. On receiving word from the OAS agent that the French are on the lookout for them, he decides his plan will succeed nevertheless, and forges ahead.

In London, the Special Branch raids Calthrop's flat, finding his passport, and deduce that he must be travelling on a false one. When they work out the name of the Jackal's primary false identity, Lebel and the police come close to apprehending the Jackal in the south of France. But thanks to his OAS contact, the Jackal checks out of his hotel early and evades them by only an hour.

With the police on the lookout for him, the Jackal takes refuge in the chateau of a woman whom he seduced while she was staying at the hotel the night before. When she goes through his things and finds the gun, he kills her and escapes again. The murder is not reported until much later that evening, allowing the Jackal to assume one of his two emergency identities and board the train for Paris.

Part Three: Anatomy of a Kill

Lebel becomes suspicious of what the rest of the council label the Jackal's "good luck," and has the telephones of all the members wiretapped, which leads him to discover the OAS agent. The Air Force colonel withdraws from the meeting in disgrace. When Thomas checks out and identifies reports of stolen or missing passports in London in the preceding months, he closes in on the Jackal's remaining false identities.

On the evening of August 22, 1963, Lebel deduces that the Jackal has decided to target de Gaulle on Liberation Day, the 25th of August, commemorating the liberation of Paris during World War II. It is, he realizes, the one day of the year when de Gaulle can be counted on to be in Paris, and to appear in public. Considering the inquiry all but over, the Minister orchestrates a massive, city-wide manhunt for the Jackal under his false name(s), and dismisses Lebel with hearty congratulations.

However, the Jackal has eluded them yet again. By pretending to be homosexual in one of his false guises, he allows himself to be "picked up" by another man and taken to his apartment, where he kills the man and remains hidden for the remaining three days.

On the day before the 25th, the Minister summons Lebel again and tells him that the Jackal still cannot be found. Lebel listens to the details of the President's schedule and security arrangements, and can suggest nothing more helpful than that everyone "should keep their eyes open."

On the day of the assassination, the Jackal, disguised as a one-legged French war veteran, passes through the police checkpoints, carrying his custom rifle concealed in the sections of a crutch. He makes his way to an apartment building overlooking the Place du 18 Juin 1940 (in front of the soon-to-be-demolished facade of the Gare Montparnasse), where de Gaulle is presenting medals to a small group of Resistance veterans.

As the ceremony begins, Lebel is walking around the street on foot, questioning and re-questioning every police checkpoint. When he hears from one CRS officer about a one-legged veteran with a crutch, he realizes what the Jackal's plan is, and rushes into the apartment building, yelling for the CRS man to follow him.

In his sniper's rest, the Jackal readies his rifle and takes aim at de Gaulle's head. Yet his first shot misses by a fraction of an inch, when de Gaulle unexpectedly leans forward to kiss the cheeks of the veteran he is honoring. The Jackal begins to reload.

Outside the apartment, Lebel and the CRS officer arrive on the top floor in time to hear the sound of the first, silenced shot. The CRS man shoots off the lock of the door and bursts in. The Jackal turns and fires, killing the young policeman with a shot to the chest.

At last, confronting each other, the assassin and the police detective — who had developed grudging, mutual respect for each other in the long chase — briefly look into each other's eyes, each recognizing the other for who he is. The Jackal scrambles to load his third and last rifle bullet, while Lebel, unarmed, snatches up the dead policeman's MAT-49 submachine-gun. Lebel is faster, and shoots the Jackal with half a magazine-load of bullets, instantly killing him.


In London, the Special Branch are cleaning up Calthrop's apartment when real Charles Calthrop storms in and demands to know what they are doing. Once it is established that Calthrop really has been on holiday in Scotland and has no connection whatsoever with the Jackal, the British are left to wonder "If the Jackal wasn't Calthrop, then who the hell was he?"

The Jackal is buried in an unmarked grave in a Paris cemetery, officially recorded as "an unknown foreign tourist, killed in a car accident." Aside from the priest, the only person attending the burial is Police Inspector Claude Lebel, who then leaves the cemetery to return home to his family.

Film adaptations

References to historical persons, places or events

  • Forsyth was a reporter for Reuters in France at the time of the novel's writing and borrowed much of his detail from actual incidents he reported on. These included the assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle at Petit-Clamart; and the arrest, trial, and execution of Bastien-Thiry. Likewise, the OAS did exist, inspired by the Gaullist government's cession of independence to Algeria after the Algerian War.
  • The Jackal may have been partially inspired by an assassin employed by the French SDECE during the Algerian War, known only as "the Killer," who specialized in killing arms traffickers in creative ways (including a poison dart fired from a hand-propelled blowgun, and a limpet mine filled with ball bearings)[citation needed].
  • Though virtually nothing of the Jackal's past history is explored, he finds several of his underworld contacts through an old friend whom he knew in Katanga, indicating he is an ex-mercenary with a military or quasi-military background. Forsyth also reported on European mercenaries' involvement with several African conflicts in the 1960s and 1970s, which inspired his third novel, The Dogs of War.
  • One of the potential candidates for the assassin considered by both Rodin and Lebel is an elderly ex-SS officer formerly employed as a contract killer for ODESSA, the underground organization of ex-Nazi war criminals. The ODESSA and its activities form the background of Forsyth's next novel, The Odessa File.
  • At the time of his summons from the OAS, the Jackal has just completed the assassinations of two German missile engineers, recruited to work on President Nasser's heavy rocket program in Egypt. This recruiting effort, and the Egyptians' continuing pursuit of the program, likewise form part of the plot of The Odessa File.
  • Thomas's SIS contact mentions the defection of Kim Philby in 1962, and the shake-up of the SIS's organization and personnel precipitated by it.
  • Forsyth lauds de Gaulle's security forces as among the best in the world, and refers to an event (which may or may not have happened) in which de Gaulle's security advisors were invited to view the similar arrangements of the United States Secret Service, and came away with a derisive opinion - which, Forsyth writes, seems to have been borne out by the later assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 (the year the novel takes place), in contrast to de Gaulle's death in 1970 from natural causes.
  • The enmity between the governments of France and the United Kingdom is largely ascribed to de Gaulle's forceful rejection, earlier in 1963, of the United Kingdom's bid to enter the European Common Market.
  • The British Prime Minister is only beginning to recover from the stress caused by the Christine Keeler scandal earlier that year.

Future influences

  • A copy of the Hebrew translation of The Day of the Jackal was found in possession of Yigal Amir, the extreme-right militant who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. As published in the Israeli press at the time, police investigators believed that the assassination was partially inspired by the book, and that Amir used it as a kind of "how to" manual. However, the method of assassination employed by the novel's Jackal is quite different from Amir's murder of Rabin. In particular, the Jackal intended to kill DeGaulle with a high-powered rifle at long range. Amir shot Rabin nearly point-blank with a handgun.
  • Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, AKA "Carlos" was nicknamed "The Jackal" by the press after a reporter with The Guardian newspaper erroneously reported that the novel was found among the terrorist's possessions (which were with his friend Angela Otaola in London).
  • The method for acquiring a false identity and UK passport detailed in the book is often referred to as the "Day of the Jackal fraud" and remains a well known security loophole in the UK.[2][3] The technique was most recently used by John Darwin to obtain a new passport after he faked his own death in a canoeing accident.
  • Would-be assassin Vladimir Arutinian, who attempted to kill US President George W. Bush during his 2005 visit to the country of Georgia, was an obsessive reader of the novel and kept an annotated version of it during his planning for the assassination.
  • The New Zealand Member of Parliament David Garrett claimed the novel's description of identity theft inspired him to create his own fake passport as a "youthful prank".[4] The incident further inflamed a national controversy over the law and order campaigner's criminal history.[5]

See also


External links

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