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Sunday, October 20, 2002
Frederick Forsyth's ancient clanger

I recently found myself looking once again at Frederick Forsyth’s book The Day of the Jackal. I read one of the puffs on the back for the first time. It says
The Day of the Jackal works beautifully...I was held spellbound...riveted to this chilling, superbly researched story...
This praise purports to come from The Guardian. It continues but superbly researched must be seen as debatable.

On his way to assassinate de Gaulle, the Jackal enters France having hired, ‘a second-hand [white] 1962 vintage Alfa Romeo sports two-seater.’ in Italy (p. 246 * ). Later, when he suspects that his trail is too warm, he sprays the car blue. He removes the numberplates and reverses them. When he had finished,
On the back of each had been painted in white an imaginary French number ...(p. 300 * )
This is, of course, absurd.

Italian front numberplates of the period were (and still are) so tiny that they could never be disguised as French, however skilful the painting. When I read the book in the early seventies, this piece of nonsense irritated me no end but I never did anything about it at the time.

Given the current acrimonious relationship between The Guardian and the author, it is high time for an entry in the paper’s notorious ‘Corrections’ column, adjusting the error in the original review. A suitable heading might be ‘Splenetic writer upbraided for inadequate research in blockbuster novel’. Still, I’m sure the Grauniad scribes will make the best of such a golden opportunity.

[ * The extracts cited are from ISBN 0552091219: Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal, (London: Corgi, 1971) - Josh]

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