In one’s memory, certain books stand out as groundbreaking. Among political thrillers, Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal,which I devoured back in 1971, the year of its publication, is such a book. The novel describes a fictive attempt on Charles de Gaulle’s life by a lone hitman hired by the OAS, the organization of ex-army officers who believed the President had committed an act of treason by granting Algeria independence. The level of technical detail was stunning: based on the Jackal’s ingenious design, an armorer in Brussels fashions a rifle, the parts of which fit inside a metal crutch. To go with it, he supplies explosive bullets using mercury—ever so much “neater and cleaner” than glycerine, one learned—their lethal effect underscored by the image of the exploding honeydew in Fred Zinnermann’s film version.

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