Golden Oldie: Catch the Spy to Save the War

Eye of the Needle

by Ken Follet

Mass market fiction is not my favorite. Yes, the stories are enjoyable. Yes, they appeal to all audiences. Yes, they make GREAT movies. But, they often feel like “book junk food” to me– all action with very little attention paid to developing the plot.

If I hate mass market fiction, I hate mass market military history even more. Between my father and my husband, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life on military bases. Mass market military history books make me think of older vets wearing warship hats sitting around and smoking in a dark VFW while they rehash their war stories. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my scene.

That’s why I was weary when one of my book clubs picked Eye of the Needle by Ken Follet to read this month. Published in 1978, this book is literally older than me. I sighed, downloaded the book to Libby, and started to read….

I loved it.

Friends, this is why it’s so important to broaden your book horizons. This book didn’t tick any of my normal boxes, and I loved it.

The book follows Henry Faber, a.k.a. Die Nadel, a German spy embedded in London. Faber’s personality is naturally lackluster and dull, but don’t let that fool you. He is utterly ruthless. The book opens with him murdering his landlady when she accidentally catches him using his transmitter to contact German officials. The man is uninteresting until he is not. His weapon of choice is a small stiletto knife that he keeps strapped to his arm at all times.

In the days leading up to D-Day, the high-ranking German military officials are trying to figure out what the Allies’ next move will be. They ask Faber to uncover the location of the invasionary forces. During this time, Faber discovers that the Americans have amassed a fake army in Norfolk in order to trick the Germans. He takes pictures, which he attempts to send back to Germany through an Axis sympathizer in the Portuguese Embassy. He straps the negatives under his clothes and starts plotting a way to get back to Germany so he can deliver them himself, just in case the pictures are confiscated. It was a good move because English spy catchers Percy Godliman and Frederick Bloggs catch the sympathizer. Bloggs and Godliman realize they are up against Faber, the famed German spy, and the chase is on. If they don’t catch Faber before he reaches Germany, the Allies will lose the element of surprise when they attack Normandy, and the war may be lost.

While trying to reach German U-boats, Faber shipwrecks on Storm Island, a remote place that houses only four people: David Rose, a young RAF pilot who lost his legs in a car accident before his first combat mission, Lucy Rose, his wife, Joe Rose, his young son, and the Rose’s sheep herder. David is bitter about losing his legs and has shown no love to Lucy during their entire marriage. When Faber shows up and recognizes that she is an incredible woman, a love affair ensues. That is, until Lucy discovers who he really is.

This book was action-packed, realistic, and just plain fun. And yes….it had a well-developed plot. I found myself cheering for Faber at times before I remembered who he was and stopped. The real hero of the book, however, was Lucy. Not only was she charming, but she was undeserving of all of the tragedies she faced in life. You want her to win. You want her to gallop off into the sunset victorious. If Faber is the most lovable, unlovable character in the book, Lucy is the most loyal, unloyal character. Even the best among us make mistakes.

Overall, I’m glad my book club took a chance on this spy novel. It may not be my genre, but it was my most-enjoyed book of the month. Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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