President Charles de Gaulle came to power in 1958 when France was falling apart with a series of governments unable to deal with the Algerian War. Before coming to power, de Gaulle promised that Algeria would remain French.
However, sometime after consolidating power, de Gaulle made an about turn and decided that Algeria must go. Algeria was a drain on French economy. Although the French troops were much better trained and equipped, they could not afford to fight a prolonged and costly war. The people of Algeria, except the French community, were almost totally pro-independence. By 1962, after being at war almost continuously from 1939 (World War II, Indochina War and Algeria War) the French were tired.
In 1962, two referenda were held in France and Algeria when the majority of inhabitants in both lands declared that Algeria must be independent. However, some hardliners did not agree. One such group was Secret Army Organization (OAS) an ultra-nationalist military group. It considered de Gaulle a traitor for granting Algeria independence. In August 1962, several officers of the OAS attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate the president. This attempt however, made the government crack down on the OAS. In the end, the officer who masterminded the plot was given death penalty.
Frederick Forsyth’s book “The Day of the Jackal” starts here. The remnants of the OAS decide to hire a professional assassin to kill the president. He is known only by the name “Jackal” and no one knows anything about him except for the fact that he is an Englishman. The first part of the book, “The Anatomy of a Plot” gives these details and the meticulous preparations of the “Jackal.” There is no killer in real or fiction who is more methodical and precise. He looks into all details, getting several forged passports, hiring a Belgian gunsmith to custom make a gun is slim and can be broken to several pieces and employing a spy network with the help of OAS to get information within the French government.
The second part of the book, “Anatomy of a Manhunt” shows Lebel, a French detective, hunting the “Jackal” who is always a step ahead. Ultimately the spy ring is broken but the Jackal still manages to reach his targeted position. It was only Lebel’s watchfulness which saves the day. This climax is described in the last part of the book “Anatomy of a Kill.”
Forsyth’s success is the way in which he combines fiction and fact. He starts from the real story and gives it a continuation, which appears to be authentic. It shows the amount of research that has gone into the story. It ends in such a way that only a handful of people get to know about the assassination attempt. Therefore, it could have well been a true story. If someone tells you that this is a real story, and if you believe it to be after reading the book, you cannot be blamed. That is the success of “The Day of the Jackal.”