Classic Crime

Frederick Forsyth

Frederick McCarthy Forsyth CBE (born 25 August 1938) is an English novelist and journalist.

Forsyth's works frequently appear on best-sellers lists and more than a dozen of his titles have been adapted to film. By 2006, he had sold more than 70 million books in more than 30 languages. The son of a furrier, Forsyth was born in Ashford, Kent. He was educated at Tonbridge School and later attended the University of Granada in Spain.

Before becoming a journalist, Forsyth completed his National Service in the Royal Air Force as a pilot where he flew the de Havilland Vampire. He joined Reuters in 1961 and later the BBC in 1965, where he served as an assistant diplomatic correspondent.

Forsyth reported on his early activities as a journalist. His early career was spent covering French affairs and the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle. Forsyth was sent out to report on the Nigerian Civil War between Biafra and Nigeria as a BBC correspondent. He was there for six months in 1967, but few expected the war to last very long considering the poor weaponry and preparation of the Biafrans when compared to the British-armed Nigerians. After his six months were over, however, Forsyth – eager to carry on reporting – approached the BBC to ask if he could have more time there. Forsyth was instructed to come home as the Vietnam war was front page news – anything to highlight the US and their mistakes, rather than the British mess in Nigeria. So, Forsyth turned freelance and flew back out to Biafra and was there for another two years. He also wrote his first book, ‘The Biafra Story’ in 1969 covering the war.

In August 2015 Forsyth revealed that in Biafra he was an informant for MI6, a relationship that continued for 20 years.

Forsyth decided to write a novel using similar research techniques to those used in journalism. His first full-length novel, ‘The Day of the Jackal’ was published in 1971. It became an international bestseller and gained its author the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. Forsyth’s other famous novels are ‘The Odessa File’ and ‘The Dogs of War’. Penguin have brought out a new paperback of ‘The Day of the Jackal’ to celebrate fifty years in print.

Frederick Forsyth has written for his own column and now lives in Buckinghamshire.

Review: The Day of the Jackal

1963. An anonymous Englishman is hired by the Operations Chief of French terrorist organisation O.A.S. to murder the French president, General Charles de Gaulle. A failed attempt in the previous year means the target will be nearly impossible to reach.

Only one man could do the job: an assassin of legendary talent known only as The Jackal.

This remorseless and deadly killer must be stopped. But he is a man without a name, without an identity; a lethal spectre. How can you stop an assassin nobody can identify? The task falls to the best detective in France - and the price of failure is unthinkable.

Forsyth allegedly wrote this novel in 35 days. I guess that is due to his journalistic training and always having to submit your copy before a deadline. Nobody can predict if a book is going to be a bestseller, let alone still be in print fifty years down the road, but it certainly was a gamechanger as Lee Child says in his intro to this book.

Forsyth is one of those authors who is a huge signpost in a massive field of writers and a writer many readers are cognisant of from early on. Forsyth is quite spare with his dialogue. With his plethora of knowledge, his books can read like an instruction manual for espionage. Maybe this book should have been called ‘How To Be A Contract Killer’! It is quite worrying that he seems to know so much. I can’t think of a more dangerous genre to research as some of the people Forsyth must have met on his travels must have been dodgy to say the least, in fact, downright dangerous!

Obviously, technology has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past fifty years, so you have to see this as a piece of history. However, despite that, the process Forsyth takes you through with false passports and the obtaining of firearms is quite eye-opening. You need to have a certain mindset to plan an assassination as shown by The Jackal. It may be just me, but as with the shadowy Jackal, there are similarities of him to Highsmith’s Ripley. Not just because of what he does, but the way Forsyth makes you actually root for the person who is in effect the bad guy! It is a mark of a writer of huge creative powers who can make a reader feel that way. Forsyth and Highsmith have nailed this in spades! ‘The Day of the Jackal’ is one of those books that stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of the most important books from the twentieth century that any lover of this genre should read.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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