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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The Best Thriller Ever: Part One

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    The Loft Cinema is showing a classic film noir movie every Thursday night in September. In the spirit of this thrilling theme, and in the style of countdown shows like Adam Richman’s “Best Sandwich In America,” I’m counting down to the best thriller ever written. Each week in September I’ll eliminate one of the six contenders in a head-to-head battle with another titan of a thriller, and crown the champion from the final three at the end of the month.

    Round 1: The Contenders

    From my initial list of my six favorite thrillers, I’ve chosen two at random to compete in the first round. They are “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le Carré.

    “The Day of the Jackal”

    The first novel by the incomparable Frederick Forsyth, “The Day of the Jackal” may also be his best. It tells a fictional story based on real events, which are worth going into briefly as an introduction to this excellent book.

    In the 1960s, French president Charles de Gaulle ended a bloody war between the French military and its colony in Algeria by granting that nation its independence. A lot of people, especially members of the military, felt that this was a terrible betrayal after a bloody war for French dominance. Out of this hatred rose the Orgainzation of the Secret Army, or OAS, a terrorist organization made up of disgruntled veterans of the Algerian War that intended to murder de Gaulle and take over the country.

    It’s all real history, and it’s this environment that provides the backdrop for Forsyth’s tale.
    In the book, members of the OAS decide after a failed assassination attempt on de Gaulle (also a real event) to hire an international hit man to do the job. An Englishman, known only as “The Jackal,” takes the job. What follows is an incredibly intricate and gloriously exciting account of an assassination in motion and the attempts of the French security services to stop it.

    This tale, one of the greatest cat and mouse stories ever penned, is not hindered at all by the fact that history tells us de Gaulle was never assassinated. Spoiler alert: If you like the scene where Hitler dies in “Inglourious Basterds,” you’ll be happily uncertain of the outcome until the last pages of “The Day of the Jackal.”

    “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold”

    John Le Carré is the penname of David Cornwell, a spy in the British espionage community who was not allowed to write under his own name for security reasons. His real experience lends him an absolutely incredible realism that comes out perfectly in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” his third novel.

    Alec Leamas is a British spy in West Germany operating against Karlheinz Mundt, the deeply sinister deputy director for operations of East German intelligence. After one of his double agents is murdered, Leamas goes back to London in shambles. He leaves his job, degenerates into drunkenness and even takes a lover from the British Communist Party.

    But Leamas is a cagey operator, and when he is recruited by the Soviets to sell his country’s secrets, he may very well be playing a double game, at the center of which is his old enemy Mundt.
    Often called the antithesis to the carefree flashiness of James Bond, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” is a dark, brooding novel that is nonetheless just as nail bitingly intense as any outing from 007. The almost dreary world of spy-craft presented in this book is much more realistic than Bond’s, and it makes the truly exciting twists and turns all the more rewarding. There’s a good chance you’ll be truly shocked at the last revelation of everyone’s true loyalties, and moved by the fate of Leamas, the true quintessential British spy.

    Round 1 Winner: “The Day of the Jackal”

    This was a tough call, but I’m going to have to give this one to “The Day of the Jackal.” “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” is a glorious work, but “The Day of the Jackal” moves faster without sacrificing anything in the process. The infamous terrorist “The Jackal” was given his moniker when a copy of Forsyth’s book was reportedly found in his luggage after one of his many escapes.
    Even though this turned out to be false, this book still holds the distinction of being the only story to make my heart literally pound while reading the finale, and that is a tough thing to beat.

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