Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Jackal Turns 40

I was delighted to see that Random House UK have just released a special 40th Anniversary edition in Hardcover of one of the greatest thrillers of all time, namely Frederick Forsyth’s ‘The Day of The Jackal’. Naturally I have several paperback editions of this ground-breaking [in the truest sense of the term] thriller, but when it came out [in the 1970’s] I was a poor student, and had to make do with reading it in mass-market format. Now as a book collector, I have always wanted to own a hardcover edition, and finally my wish has come true. Out this week is a handsome edition for the collector though priced reasonably at £20, it’s a perfect excuse to re-read a novel that can be truly termed a ‘definitive’ work of the thriller genre.

I have continued to read Forsyth’s work ever since I picked up that second-hand paperback of Jackal in the 1970’s, though that debut work has inspired a generation of writers [and continues to do so]. F. Paul Wilson even wrote an essay about it in David Morrell and Hank Wagner ITW 100 : Thriller Novels. I was fortunate to meet and talk with Forsyth last year at the Specsavers CWA Dagger Awards, while Selina Walker of Transworld / Random House explained how Forsyth had extreme trouble finding a publisher.

In the Telegraph, Forsyth explains the process

He hawked his book around from February to September 1970, when it was finally accepted by a publisher, who told Forsyth he could see why The Jackal had been so roundly rejected. “They told me I’d broken all the rules,” he says. For starters, de Gaulle was still alive (he died in November 1970) so readers knew a fictional assassination plot (set in 1963) couldn’t succeed. Forsyth had even told readers, early in the novel, that de Gaulle would die in his bed. The publishers were also wary of a book whose central character has no name. The Jackal slips out of alias after alias, eventually being buried anonymously.

A small print run was planned. Then, to the surprise of both Forsyth and his publishers, buyers at bookshops began reordering copies before publication. “The run went up to 8,000 copies,” he says, “and that was felt to be one hell of a risk. There were no reviews. The book slithered out through the summer of ’71. Slowly, the orders began to move faster. It was all word of mouth. Then my publisher phoned me at 4am in my bedsit. He’d sold the book to an American publisher for $365,000, which was roughly £100,000. And I got half of that. I’d never seen money like it and never thought I would. My family were disbelieving. They read it. My mother, God bless her, never quite understood the reference to fellatio.”

Read More Here

As an amusing aside related to this novel, I must tell you about the time Mike Stotter [Shots’ Editor-in-Chief] and I flew to New York for ITW Thrillerfest II in 2007. Thanks to Zoe and Andy Sharp we managed to get first class tickets at a very specially discounted deal with ‘Max-Jet’ [who unfortunately have since gone bust]. Neither of us had flown first class across the Atlantic before, so after a particularly grueling time [prior to our Thrillerfest trip], we decided to relax and soak up as many of the delights of that first class cabin as we could, including plenty of smoked salmon to soak up the Champagne and Malt Scotch we were knocking back. As the drinks flowed, we were laughing at some of our past miss-adventures and the absurd things we’d witnessed, and generally having a great time. Mike got up and excused himself to take a toilet break in a ‘staggering’ manner due to excessive champagne consumption. While he was gone, the head stewardess came over to me and smiled holding up her clipboard checking my name. “Mr. Karim, we’re delighted that you and Mr Stotter are having a good time on the flight, but for the benefit of the other passengers, could we ask you to keep the noise down a little please.” She said in a clipped American accent. Now I had consumed a great deal of Champagne and Malt Scotch at the time, and have a mischievous streak, so I smiled back and replied “Sorry for that, but Mr Forsyth is enjoying your hospitality, but I’ll ask him to keep his voice down”. I am still amazed how I kept a straight-face while staring at the Stewardess straight in the eye. She looked back at the passenger manifest on her clipboard and shook her head and checked the seat numbers above us. “Sorry, Mr Forsyth?” She flipped the manifest over, checking all the names. “Sorry, I should have mentioned, Mr Frederick Forsyth likes to travel incognito, he has a ‘special’ identity - Michael Stotter. Like in his novel.” She looked at me quizzically. I cleared my throat and in the most authoritative upper-class English accent, I continued. “I’m Karim, Ali Karim his security man. You know must know who Frederick Forsyth is?” She looked confused. “You must know!” I continued stretching my arm out like a sniper taking aim “The Day of The Jackal.” I could hear a few people in the seats behind whisper “hey, did you hear that! Frederick Forsyth is on the plane!” And then I noticed other passengers looking at us and before long more whispers spread back along the cabin like a Mexican wave. The stewardess looked back at me and said “of course, I saw the film with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere! and the Jackal is a master of disguise.” I heard the toilet door open and a decidedly ‘wobbly’ Mike Stotter stumble out. I didn’t want to remind her of the novel and the original Fred Zinnemann film so I continued, “precisely!”

The stewardess moved away and smiled as Mike took his seat. The stewardess winked at me and said “Anything we can do for you Mr…..Stotter,” and winked at him. Mike smiled back and replied in broad cockney, “more champagne would be nice” and with that the stewardess went back to the galley. Mike looked at me and screwed up his eyes intently, “is it me, or are people staring at us?” I shrugged and told him it was his imagination, but I heard a voice tut behind us “that’s not Frederick Forsyth, I’ve seen him on TV, he’s much taller than that and a damned sight older!” I looked innocently at my feet. “Did you hear that? Freddy Forsyth’s on the plane?” Stotter retorted. I didn’t have the heart to tell him anymore till we got into the Hyatt, instead I knocked back the champagne. “Did you notice that stewardess?” Mike said as she left our glasses filled with bubbly, “she keeps winking at me…..” I could only but laugh as the rest of first class stared at us and I tried hard to keep a straight-face.

To read more about our adventures at Thrillerfest 2007 click here, here and here – And this year we’re unable to attend Thrillerfest, but will be at Bouchercon St Louis in September….traveling economy.

Photo © 2010 Ali Karim “Selina Walker with Frederick Forsyth” at the Specsavers CWA Dagger Awards 2010 Grosvenor House London


Anonymous said...


Mike Stotter said...

Ali is a little tinker when he comes to spilling the beans. And Freddie Forsyth and Ali Karim bouncer did make another appearance in New York. but that's a whole nother canyon.....

le0pard13 said...

One of my all-time favorite novels from my youth. Like what Michael Crichton did for the tech-thriller with THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL did for its own genre. The Fred Zinnermann film adaptation was also one of the best in connection to its source. Certainly, it's more faithful than Michael Caton-Jones' version, THE JACKAL (though, that film is a guilty pleasure are totally different grounds). Fine tribute to this book and author, Ali. Thanks for this.