CHENNAI: The spy novel is a fascinating genre — Ken Follett, before being famous as a writer of medieval historical epics, was one of the best in the spy-thriller genre. Eye of the Needle was one of the first novels written by him. History first — the Normandy Invasion by the Allied forces was an overnight landing on Normandy in the northern coast of France through air and sea. This was one of the most critical and decisive invasions by the Allies against Hitler’s Axis forces. As most successful wartime attacks go, the build-up to D-Day involved subterfuge and surprise.
Eye of the Needle starts in 1943-44, the months before the Normandy Invasion. The Allied forces plot to divert the attention of the Axis army and make them believe that the attack is planned at Calais rather than Normandy, so that they cannot come to the defence of Normandy during the invasion. They create a fake army base (with inflatable model tanks and dummy airplanes) in Norfolk, their base closest to Calais — aerial images would indicate a raid being planned.
In a seemingly disconnected event, Lucy gets married to David Rose, an RAF pilot. Misfortune strikes them very soon after, as they have a car accident. Lucy is unharmed, but David gets both his legs amputated. To recuperate, they move to the almost uninhabited Storm Island, beyond the Scottish Coast.
Henry Faber is a German spy in Britain. His alias is ‘Die Nadel’, German for ‘The Needle’ — his choice of murder weapon is the stilletto. A shadowy, mysterious figure, he has been under the radar of the British Intelligence for a long time. He discovers the ruse of the Calais attack and tries to send the information to Germany a couple of times through radio or via a courier, but is thwarted. He decides that the information is too critical to relay, and that he will travel to Germany and hand it over.
The British Intelligence has at last got wind of Die Nadel. They know the information he is carrying — the fate of World War-2 hinges on it. But Faber is the best spy that Germany has. He evades the British, eventually managing to get to Aberdeen, Scotland. A boat awaits there to take him to the other side. As fate would have it, there is a violent storm at sea, and the boat is destroyed. Faber is washed ashore on Storm Island. And the fate of the war is at the hands of a young, healing English couple.
My favourite thrillers are the ones where the story grips you quickly, but the action is controlled, and the tension is built up to a crescendo. All good thrillers have a great story and action sequences, the great ones also have great characters. Ken Follett is excellent at building real, believable characters. And it all comes together perfectly in this compact, compelling thriller.
(The writer is a financial architect in Bengaluru)