It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  Swear I’m still alive. Better yet, we’ve got a guest post today from the author of The Icon Thief, a suspense novel out just last month.  This is one of those books that I haven’t gotten a chance to review because of schedule slips, but I’ll be buying it as soon as I’ve got the time.

The Jackal’s Breakfast

When I was writing my suspense novel The Icon Thief, the book I read the most for inspiration was Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal. This shouldn’t be surprising: more than forty years after it was published, Forsyth’s debut remains the best international thriller ever written, and it’s arguably still the single most influential novel of its kind. Much of its fascination comes from the figure of the Jackal himself, a coolly efficient British assassin who claims more than a few innocent victims, yes, but is also enormously attractive, to the point where a reader can’t help rooting for him, at least to some extent, as he nears his deadly appointment in Paris. We like the Jackal, despite ourselves, because he’s professional, clever, and resourceful as he goes about his business of forging identities, obtaining weapons—and even making breakfast. Here’s my favorite paragraph in the entire book:

“He made himself a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, orange juice and more black coffee in the flat’s small but compact kitchen, and ate it off the kitchen table. Being a tidy and methodical man, he emptied the last of the milk down the sink, broke the two remaining eggs, and poured them also down the sink. The remainder of the orange juice he drank off, junked the can in the trash basket, and the remainder of the bread, egg shells and coffee grounds went down the disposal unit. Nothing left would be likely to go rotten during his absence.”
Taken out of context, the scene is vaguely hilarious—it reads almost like a parody of the lovingly detailed sections in which the Jackal acquires, assembles, and tests the rifle he intends to use to kill Charles De Gaulle. Really, though, it’s a reminder that the Jackal, who has no real backstory or even a name, is defined completely by his efficiency. Note, for instance, that his breakfast apparently consists of nothing but scrambled eggs, as if bacon or toast would upset the balance of so streamlined a meal—and it wouldn’t do at all, of course, for him to make pancakes or waffles. Something about those eggs, as well as the curiously redundant “small but compact” kitchen, is just right, and it lies near the heart of the Jackal’s appeal. Both he and his book are models of professionalism, down to the smallest detail, and the more we look at the Jackal—as well as his more heroic successors like Jason Bourne or Gabriel Allon—the more he comes to resemble the ideal of the suspense novelist himself.
A modern thriller, perhaps more than any other form of contemporary fiction, is all about efficiency. There’s a good reason why suspense novels are often compared to machines or fine watches: every piece has to be laid in with care, with no unnecessary parts. Even the elements that don’t seem essential—the carefully detailed local color, for instance, or the showy display of technical knowledge—are important to the overall effect, and if a scene or detail doesn’t contribute to this larger picture, a reader is bound to wonder why it’s there. Forsyth, in his first novel, gave us a model of the efficient thriller in its purest form, so it’s no surprise that his protagonist takes on many of the same qualities. The Jackal’s breakfast is like James Bond’s martini: it tells us something about the character, but also about the author and his book, to the point where it can almost be taken as a statement of intent. Like the Jackal, Forsyth is tidy and methodical, and he leaves nothing in the novel that will go rotten over time.
This is a big part of why I find myself drawn to suspense. As a writer, I enjoy every aspect of the creative process, but I take particular pleasure in the element of problem-solving. The same part of my brain that used to be addicted to crosswords is equally excited by the challenge of getting a character from point A to point B; of planning an impossible heist; or of laying down a trail of clues for a fictional detective to follow. Writing The Icon Thief meant solving a series of puzzles that arose from my initial impulse—to write a conspiracy novel set in the New York art world—with every solution opening up fresh problems of its own. By the time I finally cracked the book’s complicated plot, I found myself feeling a bit like the Jackal himself, or even like Ilya Severin, my resourceful Russian assassin: I only kill people in fiction, but in real life, I’m taking out plot problems one at a time, as efficiently as I possibly can. It can be exhausting, but there’s no way around it. Because you can’t write a good thriller without breaking a few eggs.
Alec Nevala-Lee blogs here on WordPress and can be found at- http://www.nevalalee.com/
Likewise, The Icon Thief can be found here on Amazon – The Icon Thief
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