Celebrating 40 years of the seminal thriller The Day of the Jackal, Patrick Humphries explores just what made the book so riveting for him and so ground-breaking for a whole generation of thriller writers influenced by its author, Frederick Forsyth.
The Day of the Jackal was extraordinary for many reasons.
For a start it broke so many of the 'rules' of thriller writing in that the assassin has no name, the story seamlessly mixes fact and fiction, the tools of the killer's trade are explored in considerable detail and the outcome of the story is known right from the start of the narrative.
Harold Harris, Forsyth's editor at publisher Hutchinson and Co, noted all these new departures but still commissioned Forsyth for three novels of which the first was The Day of the Jackal, followed by The Odessa File and The Dogs of War.
The eponymous Jackal is a mercenary and in the novel he is hired by a real-life terrorist group, Organisation de l'Armee Secrete, whose members were intent on killing the French President Charles De Gaulle.
The OAS wanted to retain Algeria as a French colony, and when de Gaulle reneged on his emotional avowal 'Vive l'Algerie francaise' ie 'Long Live French Algeria', and allow self-determination, he became the target of OAS assassins.
Of course, as history proves, those assassins were never successful, though not for want of trying.
Forsyth lived through those difficult times for French democracy as a Reuters correspondent in Paris and so it was an obvious choice of setting for his first attempt at thriller writing.
Patrick talks to an editor at Hutchinson, Tony Whittome, Professor of Modern English Literature John Sutherland, OAS expert Clement Steuer, writers Lee Child, Andrew Rosenheim, Sam Bourne and the Jackal's author, Frederick Forsyth.
Producer: Neil Rosser
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.
Patrick Humphries revisits 'The Day of the Jackal' on its 40th anniversary.