The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

A desperate group of men want to eliminate one of the most influential leaders of the world. An elusive killer waits for one last big hit before retiring from his dark calling. When their paths cross disaster is undoubtedly around the corner.

Published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal’s heady mix of fact and fiction makes it a pioneer of the thriller genre.

It took me quite a while to get into the story. Some parts of the book are really boring which is not a good sign for a thriller. In addition, the book at times feels kind of dated. This feeling comes not so much from the story (which is innovative for its time) but rather from the way Forsyth ‘tells’ it.

The most interesting parts of the book were those focusing on the inexorable Jackal’s swift movements through France.

Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel’s patient, unexciting routine investigation provides a good balance against the equally patient but cold-blooded preparations of Jackal.

I liked how the changes in the Jackal’s appearances are detailed. It was like I was watching it all unfold right in front of me. Forsyth focuses quite a bit of attention on how the colour of the Jackal’s eyes change with changes in his moods. It is kind of the only ‘sign of life’ his character ever shows. I found that to be rather intriguing.

In my mind there weren’t much difference between the good and the bad in The Day of the Jackal. The good guys are almost as ruthless as the bad guys. They kidnap, torture and murder without batting an eyelid. A torture scene in the first part, Anatomy of a Plot, I found to be particularly nauseating!

The twist at the end is in keeping with the mood of the rest of the story. I liked it. I guess the twist is nothing novel nowadays but it must have been so when the book was originally published.

Overall, The Day of the Jackal is a good thriller. Recommended as a classic of the thriller genre.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A wife goes missing. A husband is blamed. Fingers are pointed all around. Every little gesture, every little moment, every bump on the road is minutely analyzed. And in the end what are we left with? A place where almost all relationships reach a dead end, where psychotic maniacs are a dime a dozen and no one is really likeable.

Published in 2012, Gone Girl is the third offering from author Gillian Flynn after Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

The story unfolds from the points of view of Nick Dunne and his wife Amy Elliott Dunne. The entire book is divided into three different parts.

The first part, Boy Loses Girl, I’d say is the ‘skeleton’ of the story. The second part, Boy Meets Girl, fills in on the gaps left by Boy Loses Girl. In the final part, Boy Gets Girl Back (or vice versa), we find the whole story standing in front of us with the skeleton grinning from underneath.

Boy Loses Girl is definitely the most intriguing part of the book. With Boy Meets Girl, the story becomes more of a straightforward thriller. Boy Gets Girl Back is basically a continuation of Boy Meets Girl. It didn’t change my perception of the characters in any way.

Gone Girl reminded me of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen and The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Two points of view, an unreliable narrator and close family members under clouds of suspicion just like The Ninth Life of Louis Drax and a rather disturbing first person narrative like The Killer Inside Me.

Most of the major characters in Gone Girl are irreparably damaged people. The amount of time they spend messing with each others minds is unbelievable. If I had to live like that, constantly analyzing and/or be analyzed, I would go crazy!

The characters are all kind of one note. The mean and manipulative ones are just that, mean and manipulative. The weak ones are weak and the good are good. Just because they smoke, drink or curse doesn’t mean that they are multi-dimensional. Characters like Andie are there just to make a plot point. They are not well fleshed out and are faintly annoying.

I like books with unreliable narrators. It lifts books up from banality and adds an interesting twist to the proceedings. Gone Girl gives us a very fiendish unreliable narrator.

By Boy Gets Girl Back I kind of got bored with all the twists that were supposed to shock me. They are all screwed up people with serious problems. So they will act whatever way they want to. I was no longer surprised.

The book’s easy to read, which is I suppose a pre-requisite for all bestsellers. But at least it’s not banal or straight out stupid. Gillian Flynn has a way with words. I’d be interested in her other works Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

Overall, Gone Girl is a good psychological thriller. Good as an easy summer read.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps is a thriller set just before the start of the First World War. Written by the Scottish author John Buchan, it first appeared as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1915. It was published in book form the same year by William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh.

The Thirty-Nine Steps chronicles the adventures of Richard Hannay, an expatriate British man, who finds himself embroiled in an international conspiracy after his friend and neighbour Franklin Scudder is found murdered in his apartment. This book is possibly one of the first examples of the innocent man on the run thrillers.

I find The Thirty-Nine Steps highly entertaining. It is one of those books that do not require a lot of thought but is not entirely a frivolous piece of fluff either.

The narrative moves at such a furious pace that there is hardly any time to breath. It is action packed with a great many things happening one after another. This is especially true when Hannay is on the run from both the police and a band of ruthless criminals and is trying to hide in rural Scotland.

The narrative does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. But Buchan manages to successfully keep the narrative ‘just’ within the bounds of reality.

Parts of the narrative appear a bit dated.

I enjoy John Buchan’s writing. It’s crisp and tautly paced.

This is a very, very short book. My Wordsworth Classics edition of the book is just 115 pages long. There is not really a lot of time for character development. Richard Hannay as the protagonist and the narrator remains the focus most of the time. So, it is mainly his character that we get to know fully. But even in this short space Buchan manages to portray the villains quite successfully. They are pretty sinister, as they are meant to be.

This book has been adapted for the screen a number of times, most notably in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. But most of these big screen adaptations have not remained faithful to the original work. For example, the phrase The Thirty-Nine Steps differs in its meaning in almost each of the film versions. Also, most of the movies introduce a love angle that is not a part of the original story.

The final few pages of the book are quite strange. Not really what is generally expected from a book of this genre. The atmosphere alone makes the climax very intense.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of my bona fide comfort reads. It manages to entertain me and at the same time dose not feel like a guilty pleasure. Overall, very enjoyable.

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