Apr 11

EYE OF THE NEEDLE: Ken Follett's Modern Classic

Signet paperback cover

In 1978, Ken Follett hit the big time with Eye of the Needle, a WWII espionage tale that grabs you by the large intestine and slowly pulls it from your body cavity.

With the Allies amassing an invasion force in 1944 Britain, secrecy is paramount. Faber, a deep-cover German superspy (code name: "Die Nadel"--The Needle--for the wicked stiletto he favors) stumbles upon the biggest secret: the invasion force is a fake, a vast array of cardboard and wood planes and tanks, in precise formations, cleverly designed to draw German defense forces away from the Normandy coast and toward Calais. With British intelligence in hot pursuit, Faber desperately flees across Britain and finds himself stranded on a storm-wracked island and entangled with its inhabitants, a bitter wheelchair-bound man and his repressed, lonely wife, Lucy.

This was one of the novels that steered me toward the suspense genre and established Follett as heir apparent (along with Jack Higgins) to Alistair Maclean, who had fallen way, way off his early form by then (sidebar! I remember tossing aside Maclean's River of Death after a few chapters, wondering how in the hell the author who kept me glued to the pages of South by Java Head and The Black Shrike could have managed such a weak effort) .

Follett succeeded Eye of the Needle with another great story, The Man from St. Petersburg (no, it's not about a renegade shuffle-board playing retiree in Florida...it follows a Russian anarchist and assassin who falls in love with the suffragist daughter of an English aristocrat, just before the horrific bloodletting of 1914). This novel, I suspect, would have been huge, if not for its rather dull title.

Follett continued to have success but his later novels, for me, never reached the same heights as Eye of the Needle (although I freely admit to not having read them all).

I award it nineteen stars! *******************