The Day of the Jackal

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The Day of the Jackal
FrederickForsyth TheDayOfTheJackal.jpg
1971 UK 1st Edition dustjacket (spine & front)
AuthorFrederick Forsyth
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreSpy, Thriller, Historical novel
PublisherHutchinson & Co (UK)
Viking Press (US)
Publication date
7 June 1971 (UK)
6 August 1971 (US)
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages358 pp (first edition, UK)
380 pp (first edition, US)
ISBN0-09-107390-1 (first edition, hardback)
LC ClassPZ4.F7349 Day3 PR6056.O699

The Day of the Jackal (1971) 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 1971, and it received a 1972 Best Novel Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The novel remains popular, and in 2003 it was listed on the BBC's survey The Big Read.[1]

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 1962; the subsequent plot is fiction.

Plot summary[edit]

Part One: Anatomy of a Plot[edit]

The book begins in 1962 with the (historical) failed attempt on de Gaulle's life plotted by, among others, Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry in the Paris suburb of Petit-Clamart: Operation Charlotte Corday. 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 believe de Gaulle to be 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 capture and interrogate the terrorists' operations commander, Antoine Argoud. The failure of the Petit-Clamart assassination, and a subsequent unsuccessful attempt at the École Militaire, compounded by Bastien-Thiry's eventual execution by firing squad, likewise demoralise the antagonists.

Argoud's deputy, Lt-Col Marc Rodin, carefully examines what few options they have remaining and establishes that the only way to succeed in killing de Gaulle is to hire a professional mercenary from outside the organisation, someone completely unknown to both the French government and the OAS itself. After extensive inquiries, he contacts an English hitman (whose true identity is always unknown), who meets with Rodin and his two principal deputies in Vienna, and agrees to assassinate de Gaulle, although he demands a total of US$500,000 (roughly US$3.5 million in 2021 dollars).[2] The killer further requires that half of the amount be paid in advance and the rest on completion. They also decide on a code name, "The Jackal". The triumvirate of OAS commanders then take up residency on the top floor of a Rome hotel guarded by a group of ex-legionnaires to avoid the risk of being captured, like Argoud, and subsequently revealing the assassination plot under interrogation.

The remainder of this part describes the Jackal's exhaustive preparations for the forthcoming project. He first acquires a legitimate British passport under a fake name, "Alexander Duggan", which he intends to use for the majority of his mission. He then steals the passports of two foreign tourists visiting London who superficially resemble him for use as contingency identities. With his primary phoney passport, the Jackal travels to Brussels, where he commissions a master gunsmith to build him a special suppressed sniper rifle of extreme slimness with a small supply of mercury-tipped explosive bullets. He also acquires a set of forged French identity papers from a professional forger. The latter makes the mistake of attempting to blackmail him, for which the Jackal kills him and locks his body in a large trunk where he determines it will not be found for a considerable time. After exhaustively researching a series of books and articles by, and about, de Gaulle, the Jackal travels to Paris to reconnoitre the most favourable spot and the best possible day for the assassination.

Following a series of armed robberies in France, the OAS is able to deposit the first half of the Jackal's fee in his Swiss bank account. Meanwhile, the French authorities, curious about Rodin and his subordinates being holed up in the hotel, composes and despatches a fake letter that lures Viktor Kowalski, one of Rodin's bodyguards (and a hulking giant) to France, where he is caught and tortured to death. Interpreting his incoherent ramblings, the secret service is able to decipher Rodin's plot, but knows nothing of the assassin himself bar his codename. When informed of the plan, de Gaulle (who was notoriously careless of his personal security) refuses to cancel any public appearances, modify his normal routines, or even allow any kind of public inquiry into the assassin's whereabouts to be made: any investigation, he orders, must be done in absolute secrecy.

Roger Frey, the French Minister of the Interior, organises a conference of the heads of the French security authorities. Because Rodin and his men are in the hotel under heavy guard, the group determines that it is impossible to catch and interrogate them about the assassin, nor can they be executed. The rest of the meeting is at a loss to suggest how to proceed, until a Commissioner of the Police Judiciaire reasons that their first and most essential duty is to establish the Jackal's true identity, which is something that he insists is "pure detective work". When asked to name the best detective in France, he volunteers his own deputy commissioner: Claude Lebel.

Part Two: Anatomy of a Manhunt[edit]

Granted special emergency powers to conduct his investigation, Lebel does everything possible to uncover 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. However, one of Thomas's subordinates suggests that if the assassin were an Englishman, but primarily operated abroad, he would most probably 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 rumour from an officer stationed in the Dominican Republic at the time of President Trujillo's assassination. The rumour states that a hired assassin stopped Trujillo's car with a rifle shot, allowing a gang of partisans to finish him off. Additionally, Thomas also learns that the assassin was an Englishman, whom he is able to identify as Charles Calthrop.

To his surprise, Thomas is summoned in person by the Prime Minister (unnamed, but most probably 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, with a limitless amount of resources, manpower or expenses at Thomas' disposal. 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. While Thomas confirms that this Calthrop was indeed in the Dominican Republic at the time of Trujillo's death, he does not feel it is enough to inform Lebel, until one of his junior detectives realises that the first three letters of his first name and surname form the French word for Jackal (Chacal).

Unknown to any member of the council in France, there is an OAS mole among them: the mistress of an arrogant Air Force colonel attached to de Gaulle's staff. Through pillow talk, the colonel unwittingly feeds the Jackal a constant stream of information as to Lebel's progress. The Englishman enters France through Italy, driving a rented Alfa Romeo sports car with his weapon welded to the chassis. Although he receives word from the OAS agent that the French are on the lookout for him, he determines he will succeed anyway and decides to take the risk. In London, the Special Branch raids Calthrop's flat, finding his passport, and deduce that he must be travelling on fake papers. When they work out the name of the Jackal's primary fake identity, Lebel and the police come close to apprehending the Jackal in the south of France, but thanks again to his OAS contact, the killer leaves his hotel prematurely and evades them by only an hour. With the police on the lookout for him, the Jackal then seeks refuge in the château of a woman whom he had encountered and seduced at the hotel: when she goes through his things and finds the rifle, he kills her and flees, disposing of Duggan's belongings in a ravine in the process. The murder is not reported until much later that evening, allowing the Englishman to assume one of his two emergency identities and board the train for Paris.

Part Three: Anatomy of a Kill[edit]

Lebel becomes suspicious of what the rest of the council label the Jackal's apparent "good luck", and has the telephones of all the members tapped, which leads him to discover the OAS agent. The Air Force colonel withdraws from the meeting in disgrace and subsequently tenders his resignation. 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 fake identities.

On the evening of 22 August 1963, Lebel deduces that the killer has decided to target de Gaulle on 25 August, the day commemorating the liberation of Paris during World War II. It is, he realises, the one day of the year when de Gaulle can definitely be counted on to be in Paris and to appear in public. Believing the inquiry to be over, the Minister orchestrates a massive, citywide manhunt for the Jackal now that he can be publicly reported as a murderer, dismissing Lebel with hearty congratulations – but the killer eludes them yet again: slipping into a gay bar while in disguise, he gets himself picked up by a local man and taken to his flat, where he kills him and hides out.

On the 24th, the Minister summons Lebel yet again and tells him that the Jackal still cannot be found. Lebel listens to the details of the President's schedule and security arrangements, but can suggest nothing more helpful than that everyone "should keep their eyes open." On the 25th itself, the Jackal, masquerading as a one-legged French war veteran, passes through the security 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 façade 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, questioning and re-questioning every police checkpoint. When he hears from one CRS guard about a one-legged veteran with a crutch, he realises what the Jackal's plan is, and rushes into the apartment building, calling for the patrol to follow him.

Having sneaked into a suitable apartment to shoot from, the Jackal prepares his weapon and takes aim at de Gaulle's head, but 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 honouring. 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 as the Jackal is reloading: the Jackal turns and fires, killing him with a shot to the chest. At this point, the detective and the assassin, having developed grudging respect for each other during the manhunt, stare at each other briefly. The Jackal scrambles to load his third and last bullet while the unarmed Lebel snatches up the dead policeman's submachine-gun: Lebel is faster and shoots the Jackal with half a magazine-load of 9mm bullets, instantly killing him.


In London, the Special Branch are cleaning up Calthrop's apartment when the real Charles Calthrop storms in and demands to know what they are doing. Once it is established that Calthrop truly has been on holiday in Scotland and is totally unconnected with the killer, 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 a priest, policeman, registrar and grave-diggers, the only person attending the burial is Police Inspector Claude Lebel, who then leaves the cemetery to return home to his family.


The Biafra Story.jpg

Over the three years immediately prior to his writing The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth spent most of his time in West Africa covering the Biafran war, first for the BBC in 1967 and then for another eighteen months as a freelance journalist in 1968–1969. Upon his return to Britain his first book, the non-fiction The Biafra Story: The Making of an African Legend about that brutal civil war during which Nigeria fought to prevent the secession of its eastern province, was published as a paperback by Penguin Books in late 1969.[3][4] To Forsyth's disappointment, however, the book sold very few copies and so with the arrival of the 1970s the then 31 year-old freelance journalist, international adventurer, and onetime youngest (at 19) fighter pilot in the RAF found himself both out of work and "flat broke". To solve his financial problems he thus decided to try his hand at fiction by writing a political thriller as a "one-off" project to "clear his debts".[5][6] Unlike most novelists, however, Forsyth would employ the same type of research techniques that he had used as an investigative reporter to bring a sense of increased reality to his work of fiction, a story which he first began to consider writing in 1962–1963 while posted to Paris as a young Reuters foreign correspondent.[7]

When Forsyth arrived in 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle had just granted independence to Algeria to end the eight-year Algerian War, a highly controversial act that had incurred the wrath of the anti-decolonisation paramilitary group Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) which then vowed to assassinate him. Forsyth befriended several of the President's bodyguards and personally reported from the scene of the failed August 1962 assassination attempt along the Avenue de la Libération during which de Gaulle and his wife narrowly escaped death in a fusillade of gunfire in the roadside ambush, the most serious of six overall attempts the OAS would make on his life.[8] Forsyth incorporated an account of that real-life event to open his new novel throughout which he also employed many other aspects and details about France, its politics, the OAS, and international law enforcement that he had learned during his career as an investigative journalist.[9][10] Forsyth noted that virtually all OAS members and sympathizers were known to, and under surveillance by, French authorities—a key factor in the failure of their assassination attempts. In his 2015 memoir The Outsider, Forsyth wrote that during his time in France he briefly considered that the OAS might assassinate de Gaulle if they hired a man or team who were completely unknown to French authorities — an idea he would later expand upon in Jackal.[11]

Publishing history[edit]

UK first edition spine

Although Forsyth wrote The Day of the Jackal in 35 days in January and February 1970, it remained unpublished for almost a year-and-a-half thereafter as he sought a publisher willing to accept his unsolicited approximately 140,000-word manuscript. Four publishing houses rejected it between February and September because their editors believed a fictional account of the OAS hiring a British born assassin in 1963 to kill Charles de Gaulle would not be commercially successful, given the fact that he had never been shot and, when the book was written, de Gaulle was in fact still alive and retired from public life.

The editors told Forsyth that they felt that these well-known facts essentially abrogated the suspense of his fictional assassination plot against de Gaulle as readers would already know it would not and could not have been successful.[12] (De Gaulle subsequently died of natural causes at his country home in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises in November 1970 after peacefully retiring).[13][14] After these rejections Forsyth took a different strategy and wrote a short summary of the novel to present to publishers, noting that the focus was not on the plausbility of the assassination, but rather on the technical details and manhunt. He persuaded London based Hutchinson & Co. to take a chance on publishing his novel, however, they only agreed to a relatively small initial printing of just 8,000 copies for its 358-page red and gold clothbound first edition. Forsyth was signed to a three book contract: a £500 advance for Jackal, followed by another £6,000 advance for the second and third novels.[15] Although the book was not formally reviewed by the press prior to its initial June 1971 UK publication, widespread word of mouth discussion resulted in brisk advance and post-publication sales leading to repeated additional printings (including some prior to its official publication date) being ordered from Hutchinson's longtime printer, Anchor Press Ltd (Tiptree, Essex), to meet booksellers' unexpectedly strong demand.[12][16][17]

The book's unexpected success in Britain soon attracted the attention of Viking Press in New York which quickly acquired the US publication rights for $365,000 (£100,000)—a then very substantial sum for such a work and especially for that of a first-time author. These fees (the equivalent of more than $2,000,000 in 2013) were split equally between Hutchinson and Forsyth which led the heretofore self-described "flat broke" author to observe later that he had "never seen money like it and never thought I would."[12][16] Just two months after its publication in the UK the 380-page clothbound Viking first edition was released in the US at $7.95 and with a distinctive jacket designed by noted American artist Paul Bacon.[18][19][dead link]

The New York Times review headline

The US first edition's launch was considerably aided by two glowing reviews in the New York Times by senior daily book reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt three days before its release, and by the American mystery writer Stanley Bernard Ellin the week after.[20][21][N 1] In mid-October it reached No. 1 on the Times "Best Seller List" for fiction and by mid-December 136,000 copies of Viking's US edition were already in print.[22][23] Over two-and-a-half million copies were sold worldwide by 1975.[24] As in the UK, over forty years later The Day of the Jackal still remains in print in the US published now by Penguin Books (which acquired Viking in 1975) as a New American Library imprint.[25][26] Hundreds of other print, electronic, and audio editions have been produced around the world since 1971 with many more millions of copies now in print in both English and the thirty other languages to which it has been translated including Spanish, German, French, Russian, Czech, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Hebrew, Latvian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.[7][18]

The Day of the Jackal was published in serial format in 1971 in both the London Evening Standard and Israel's oldest daily newspaper, Ha'aretz.[18] Earning Forsyth the 1972 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, in 1973 it was also made into a 143-minute feature film directed by Fred Zinnemann. In 2011 a number of special "40th Anniversary" editions of The Day of the Jackal were released in the UK, US, and elsewhere to commemorate the four decades of continuous success of the book, the first of 18 more Forsyth novels and collections of his short stories published since the 1971 release of his seminal debut thriller.[27]

Film adaptations[edit]

Influence on later events[edit]

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 remained a well known security loophole in the UK[30] until 2007.[31] 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".[32] The incident further inflamed a national controversy over the law and order campaigner's criminal history.[33]

In 1975, the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos was dubbed "The Jackal" by The Guardian after one of its correspondents reportedly spotted the novel near some of the fugitive's belongings.[34]

A copy of the Hebrew translation of The Day of the Jackal was found in possession of Yigal Amir, the Israeli who in 1995 assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel.

Would-be assassin Vladimir Arutinian, who attempted to kill US President George W. Bush during his 2005 visit to the Republic of Georgia, was an obsessive reader of the novel and kept an annotated version of it during his planning for the assassination.[35]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Regardless of whether [a] book was written by a new or established author, being positively reviewed [in the New York Times] significantly increased sales; a positive review generated between a 32% and 52% percent increase in demand." Berger, Jonah (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), Sorensen, Alan T. (Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University), Rasmussen, Scott J. (Stanford University) "Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: When Negative Reviews Increase Sales". Marketing Science (Professional journal), Sept/Oct 2010 (Vol. 29, No. 5), pp. 815–827


  1. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
  2. ^ "Inflation Calculator | Find US Dollar's Value from 1913-2021". 10 June 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  3. ^ Yishau, Olukorede (30 November 2011). "Frederick Forsyth's Biafran Story". The Nation. Lagos, Nigeria. Archived from the original on 1 May 2012.
  4. ^ Aspinall, Terry (2010). "Soldiers of Fortune Mercenary Wars: Biafra 1966".
  5. ^ Forsyth, Frederick. "A Rather Undeserving Scribe (Author's Note)". The Day of the Jackal (New American Library ed.).
  6. ^ Vembu, Venkatesan (31 July 2010). "Interview with Frederick Forsyth". I'm mercenary: I wrote Day of the Jackal for money.
  7. ^ a b "The Day of the Jackal: Teacher's Notes Level 4" (PDF). Penguin Readers Teacher Support Programme. Penguin Books.
  8. ^ "Interview with Frederick Forsyth" (Transcript). Larry King Live Weekend. Cable News Network. 15 April 2000.
  9. ^ Cumming, Charles (3 June 2011). "The Day of the Jackal: The hit we nearly missed". The Guardian.
  10. ^ "Citroen helps de Gaulle survive assassination attempt". This Day in History. The History Channel. 22 August 1962.
  11. ^ Forsyth, Frederick (2015). The Outsider: My life in intrigue. New York: Putnam.
  12. ^ a b c Anderson, Hephzibah. "Forsyth’s Shadowy Jackal Celebrates 40 Years of Assassination: Interview" Bloomberg News, 31 July 2011
  13. ^ "France Mourns de Gaulle: World Leaders to Attend a Service at Notre Dame". The New York Times, 11 November 1970. p. 1
  14. ^
  15. ^ Forsyth, 2015
  16. ^ a b Brown, Helen "Frederick Forsyth: 'I had expected women to hate him. But no...'" The Daily Telegraph. 21 May 2011
  17. ^ The Day of the Jackal Original dustjacket ("Reprinted before publication") London: Hutchinson & Co. 1971
  18. ^ a b c Hulme, Emily "20th Century American Bestsellers: "The Day of the Jackal" Archived 29 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine University of Illinois
  19. ^ 1971 US First Edition Dustjacket Paul Bacon, Designer
  20. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (3 August 1971). "Want a Thriller? Here's One". The New York Times. p. 27.
  21. ^ Ellin, Stanley (15 August 1971). "Target: Le Grand Charles". The New York Times. p. BR3.
  22. ^ "Best Seller List" (Fiction) The New York Times Review of Books. 17 October 1971, p. 69
  23. ^ Publisher's Weekly. Weekly issues from 16 August to 20 December 1971
  24. ^ Burke, Alice and James. "80 Years of Bestsellers, 1895–1975". New York: R. R. Bowker Co., 1976
  25. ^ History of the Viking Press Archived 3 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine Viking Press.
  26. ^ The Day of the Jackal Viking Press., 2013
  27. ^ 2011 "40th Anniversary Edition" Cover Random House (via Bloomberg)
  28. ^ The French Security services kidnaps the OSS Bodyguard while he is delivering mail instead of luring him back to France with a false report his daughter is dying; The Jackal goes to Genoa, Italy for his sniper rifle and forged ID Card instead of Belgium; while on the way to hiding out with the French aristocrat woman he has a car accident which almost derails his plans; he kills the woman after she reveals that the Police talked to her and that she recognized the car he was driving was stolen; the French Colonel who unwittingly tips off the Jackal commits suicide instead of resigning.
  29. ^ "Shaji Kailas starts Mammootty`s film". Sify. 12 October 2010.
  30. ^ Dilley, Ryan (15 September 2003). "Has the Jackal passport scam had its day?". BBC News. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  31. ^ "'Day of Jackal' identity scam ended". Metro. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  32. ^ "Act MP admits using dead child's identity". Otago Daily Times. NZPA. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  33. ^ "Hide fronts on MP who stole dead baby's ID". Television New Zealand. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  34. ^
  35. ^

External links[edit]