Friday, April 12, 2013

Frederick Forsyth at Crimefest: Thirty-five Days of the Jackal

Crimefest 2013 in Bristol, England, is coming up next month, and I plan to make my fourth appearance in the festival's six years. So this is a good time to start reading a classic thriller that I first got excited about at Crimefest 2012.

The opening hundred or so pages of The Day of the Jackal offer measured, chilling background to fanaticism from two French sides in the Franco-Algerian War. (The Jackal is an assassin hired  by right-wing military figures to kill French President Charles de Gaulle, incensed by De Gaulle's grant of Algerian independence after having declared "Vive l'Algerie Francaise!" De Gaulle proclaimed "Long live French Algeria!" then granted the country its independence, and "Vive le Quebec libre!" or "Long live free Quebec!" without, however, wrenching my native province out of Canada--at least not yet. He had a bit of a problem with this liberation thing.)

Now, why not listen to some Franco-Algerian music, read about the real aborted Algerian military coup against De Gaulle, and join me in The Day of the Jackal?
 ===========================
 Thirty-five days. That's how long Crimefest 2012 honoree Frederick Forsyth said it took him to write his classic 1971 thriller The Day of the Jackal. And he said the novel was published as he had written it, without changes.

This and the rapidity of the book's composition earned him the good-natured jealousy of Peter Guttridge, who quizzed Forsyth in the first of the festival's six guest-of-honor interviews.

I had seen and liked the 1973 film version of The Day of the Jackal, but I had not read a word of Forsyth's work before today. His interview turned me into a fan, though, and I bought the book. My favorite bit of the interview was probably Forsyth's response to Guttridge's question about whether the world had grown more complicated since the Jackal's Cold War days.

"Very much so," Forsyth replied. "Al-Qaeda is here, there, everywhere. ... It's a weird world. It's a dangerous world. It's a bewildering." (And yes, Forsyth's tendency to speak in threes lends his speech a pleasantly rhythmic effect.) He also, by his own account, has led a fortunate and engaging life, so yes, I'm a Forsyth fan starting today.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012. 2013

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31 Comments:

Anonymous Liz said...

Frederick Forsyth is, to my mind, wonderful, and The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File among the classics. But, his best is a gentle story--The Shepherd.

P.S.: None of the films compare.

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Peter,

I've been a fan of Frederick Forsyth since I read "The Day of the Jackal" when it was first published.

After you've read "The Jackal," you might want to read "The Fourth Protocal." I like this Cold War thriller.

I also like "The Devil's Alternative," "The Fist of God," and his other outstanding thrillers.

I like that Forsyth researches his novels and places a good bit of facts and background information into his stories.

Paul

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Liz: Forsyth called the movie version of The Day of the Jackal "A wonderful film, but it had nothing to do with me."

I'll keep "The Shepherd" in mind. A number of his books and stories came up during the discussion, but that was not one of them.

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I suspect that Forsyth's background as a reporter has something to to with his research. He also said that he became a reporter so he could see the world, and seeing the world is the most enjoyable research I can think of.

A Forsyth reader here recommended The Afghan.

May 25, 2012  
Anonymous Ellicia said...

What a line up of authors. I watched an amusing interview with P.D. James the year she turned 90. The interviewer asked her if she was planning to write another book. She replied that she was undecided because she would hate to die before she finished it. What a delightfully pragmatic reply.

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That was a delightful answer, and it gives me something to look forward to when she is interviewed tomorrow. Thanks.

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Here's the back story on The Shepherd. I've listened to the CBC's Alan Maitland's reading of it for years and years, every Christmas Eve.

Forsyth wrote it (it's a short story) in an unconscionably short period of time.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the link. Apparently the man has a flair for writing fast and well.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous Liz said...

May I thank you also for the link. Had no idea a reading of The Shepherd was broadcast.

May 27, 2012  
Blogger R.T. said...

FF has had an impressive and diverse writing career. He may never garner prizes and critical acclaim, but he does something that is probably more important: he attracts readers and sells lots of books. His latest forays into historical fiction are more impressive than his earlier thrillers. But that is probably a subjective reaction from yours truly, a person who has an Achilles' heel for HF v. thrillers. His medieval/early renaissance novels are successful ($$$) and entertaining. I am envious.

April 13, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Error! My swiss-cheese (very senior) brain confused two writers: Forsyth and Follett. I think I need one of those "sundowner syndrome" medicines. Forgive my foolish error.

In any case, I like both writers! So there!

But what the hell do I know????

April 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Second try after Blogger ate my first effort--and a good thing it did so, because I had written that I did not know Forsyth had written books set in earlier times.

As for Forsyth's reception by critics, his prose may not be dazzling, but he knows how to tell a story. I may put up an analytical post about his technique.

What else by Forsyth is worth reading?

April 13, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

If you overlook my confusion about two different writers, my recollection of reading Forsyth years ago leads me to say that all of his works are worthwhile as entertainments, especially in the sense of the word as proffered by Graham Greene when he was describing his own novels (i.e., the ostensibly "literary" versus the entertaining). The trouble, though, may be that some of Forsyth's novels are now a bit dated because of historical and cultural contexts that have passed into the somewhat forgotten and irrelevant (?) past.

April 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, he did set one book in Afghanistan, I think. And a book that deals, as The Day of the Jackal does, with the consequences of French presence in an Islamic country, not to mention with a manhunt for a terrorist, ought to be of interest to readers today. After all, my copy is a 40th-anniversary edition, newly reprinted in 2011.

And Forsyth was a reporter. That's not always a good thing for a novelist, but he manages to incorporate lots of information, especially in the book's first section, "Anatomy of a Plot."

April 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

With respect to the possibility that his books may be outdated, note is comment to Peter Guttridge that yes, the world is more complicated today.

So, who are the current worthy successors to Frederick Forsyth?

April 13, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

My changing reading interests have expanded in the past years to include historical fiction, which is disparaged by critics, and I seek out those HF novels with murders, mysteries, and detectives involved. So, since I probably have forgotten everything in the Forsyth novels, because I read them so long ago, it may be a good time to renew my acquaintance with his work. Your posting has become the perfect catalyst.

At least I have not yet resorted to reading Western sagas, the stereotypical favorite of aging males.

Yet there is good news: I have erased my confusion over Forsyth and Follett.

(Yikes, I think I need one of those Alzheimer's patches! Soon I will need only two books to read. I will read one, then the second, and then return to the first which I would have already forgotten.)

April 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope you pick two good books, then.

Since you like historical fiction with the occasional murder and mystery and detective involved, may I recomment John Lawton, if you have not already discussed him here.

April 13, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Thanks for the Rx. Now, I am off to the local library. But I will limit myself to 2 books. I do not need more.

April 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here, for your browsing convenience, is a link to my posts that mention John Lawton. You might also look into Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca or Peeler, by Kevin McCarthy.

April 13, 2013  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

The Day of the Jackal novel was one book i was able to enjoy after watching the superb film. The Odessa File and The Dogs of War were pretty good but nowhere as good as the Jackal.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah: I wrote in my post that I had watched the film years ago, but I may only have seen one part: the immediate execution and failure of the plot. I don't remember and may not have seen what the movie did with the "Anatomy of a Plot" section. I thought that part of the book did an exceptional job ofd conveying information without slowing the novel down. Indeed, I wanted to know more, and I browsed books about Algerian history last night.

Though Forsyth said the world had become more complicated since 1971, I dfound it interesting that he chose a multisided conflict such as the Franco-Algerian War as a springboard for his first book. So I'm curious about what he did in his Afghanistan novel--though I'd be even more interested in seeing a book about Afghanistan set today.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Afghanistan as a factor in crime fiction has an impressive pedigree. Consider Dr. Watson's difficulties before returning to England and meeting Sherlock Holmes!

Given Afghanistan's history, it promises to be a perpetual source for future writers. Sad, sad, sad. Wasn't it Santyana who said something about those not learning from history being doomed to repeat history?

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My gosh, yes. I wonder if it occurred to anyone in the past decade or so to write a thriller or crime novel set after the Soviet invasion or amid the Great Game. If not, why not?

April 14, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

I consider myself educated. I had not heard (or I do not recall hearing) the term "great game" before this. Imagine that. I was in the Navy for 25 years (until 1994), and I do not recall that term. I must have been living under a rock.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Peter & RT,

The "The Great Game," the conflict (and espionage war) between the British and Russian empires in Central Asia, was featured in literature in Kipling's wonderful novel "Kim," one of the first espionage novels I read as a child.

And although Kipling would not have approved, a British SIS intelligence officer named Harold Adrian Russell Philby, later known as a great Soviet spy and traitor, was kicknamed "Kim," after the boy spy in the novel.

Paul


April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger eats another comment, so:

I don't what your niche in the Navy was. Maybe the history was reserved for the Navy's equivalent of the Army War College. I bet such history classes are worth attending.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, is that really the source of Kim Philby's name? I never knew that; thanks.

And I'll take your mention of Kim as a recommendation. Thanks for that, too.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Part of the time I was in cryptology (intelligence), and part of the time I was in legal administration (courts-martial and discharges). In any case, I was oblivious to that label, the "great game." Go figure!

It is interesting, though, that so many writers are still situating their novels in the Cold War. I wonder why. Others, though, especially political thriller writers, have their fingers on the pulse of current events. Even Tom Clancy keeps cranking them out.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe the Navy wants only its leaders to know the big picture. It might not do to have too many underlings walking around asking questions.

I think the popular theory is that the Cold War was the last time there was an easily definable bad guy: an ideology with clear borders, no less. Back then, we waged a Cold War against the Soviet Union. These days, we wage a war on ... terror?

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Peter,

Today we wage war on Islamist fanatics who want to return to the awful ways of the 17th century.

These fanatics, who use terrorism as a tactic, are easily definable bad guys, in my view, although they lack clear borders.

Frederic Forsyth, Tom Clancy and other thriller writers have no problem writing post-Cold War thrillers featuring Islamist terrorists as the bad guys.

Still, the Cold War does offer a grand backdrop for thrillers. Ian Fleming's "From Russia With Love" is my favorite Cold War thrller.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I know that. It's just that "Islamist fanatics" are a target a lot more elusive than "the Soviet Union" due, in no small part, to that lack of clear borders, and doubtless a hell of a harder target for military planners.

As for me, I'm off to browse some histories of Afghanistan and also Algeria.

April 14, 2013  

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