Friday, February 24, 2012

Sam Bourne's 5 favorite classic thrillers

Sam Bourne is a literary pseudonym for Jonathan Freedland, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. He writes a weekly column in the Guardian, as well as a monthly piece for the Jewish Chronicle. He also presents BBC Radio 4's contemporary history series, The Long View.

His latest novel Pantheon is now available in the UK.

One of his five favorite classic thrillers, as told to Daisy Banks at The Browser:
The Day of the Jackal
by Frederick Forsyth

Your next book, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, is about a professional killer hired to kill Charles De Gaulle.

Again, the reader knows that Charles De Gaulle was not assassinated and therefore this book in a way should have no suspense, but instead it is full of suspense. I wanted to tip a hat to that. It is a book that excellently understood the importance of detail and process. Plenty of Frederick Forsyth imitators thought that is all you had to do, but actually you have to do a whole lot more. It is hugely important to get right the mechanics of how characters do things, and that can be enormously absorbing.

The famous example from The Day of the Jackal is how the central character, the Jackal, creates a fake identity and gets a fake passport. Frederick Forsyth had discovered that there really was a loophole, where as long as you produced a birth certificate of someone who had died – which in those days was pretty easy to do – then you could pretend to be that person and get a passport.

I have read somewhere that the loophole was cleared up as a result of the novel. And that is what makes the book compelling – you are observing the mechanics of an assassin who is a really blank character. He is unnamed, apart from being called “the Jackal”. He should be very blank, but it works because you buy into the idea of a traceless, faceless, ruthless killer.

And that all adds to the suspense, because your imagination can really get to work on what he might be like.

That’s right. It is so interesting how rules can be broken, because you would think that a character with no personality would be unengaging but actually it works very well. As you say, we can begin to speculate about what made this man like this. But there is also the procedural tension about how he will get from point A to B to C to D. It is one of those books that completely grips you.
Read about another book Bourne tagged at The Browser.

The Day of the Jackal is one of Christopher Timothy's 6 best books.

--Marshal Zeringue