Today’s best thriller writers on one hundred classics of the genre…
My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle.
It is 1944 and weeks before D-Day. The Allies are disguising their invasion plans with a phoney armada of ships and planes. Their plan would be scuppered if an enemy agent found out… and then, Hitler’s prize agent, “The Needle,” does just that. Hunted by MI5, he leads a murderous trail across Britain to a waiting U-Boat. But he hasn’t planned for a storm-battered island, and the remarkable young woman who lives there.
Tess Gerritsen writes the essay on Eye of the Needle, “a thriller made all the more intriguing because it was based on real history.” But of course, that also means we know at least something of the outcome going in.
Follett’s story is based on the idea that surely someone on the German side of the war must have realized that the Allies’ “planned” invasion was an act, a cover for the real invasion at Normandy. In the book, that someone is Henry Faber. Unless Follett is writing alternate history, we know that Faber must ultimately fail to convince the German forces of the danger… but even knowing that much still leaves open many possible scenarios.
Faber is a great character, and as Gerritsen points out, we learn right away what kind of a man he is. “Heartless and brilliant, he is both villain and, strangely, a hero, whose ingenuity one cannot help but admire, even as his actions repel.” I don’t know that I actually admire him, but he believes absolutely that what he does is the right thing, and that kind of a villain is compelling to read.
I haven’t read all that many spy novels, and even fewer WWII novels, but despite the early skepticism I usually feel reading one of these classic thrillers, I was quickly hooked. There’s one story line early on – that of the young wife, Lucy Rose – that doesn’t quite fit in with the others, but of course it all comes together in the end. And even what I took to be mere character-building details of the MI5 agents chasing Faber are ultimately proven relevant.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Eye of the Needle; it lives up to its hype and it’s definitely earned a spot on the list.
Eight down, ninety-two to go…