” Fear was never far from the surface of his emotions; perhaps that was why he had survived so long. He was chronically incapable of feeling safe. He understood, in that vague way in which one sometimes understands the most fundamental things about oneself, that his very insecurity was the reason he chose the profession of spy; it was the only way of life which could permit him instantly to kill anyone who posed him the slightest threat. ” (Ch.21, p.203)
Set during the World War Two, Eye of the Needle is a spy story about a German agent, Henry Faber, who learns about Operation Fortitude, a real life counter-espionage operation undertaken by the Allies on the eve of D-Day. The Allies mount this deception to convince the Germans that what would be the D-Day invasion in France would occur at Calais, when in reality the Allies plan on landing in Normandy. Ken Follett speculates in this novel what might happen if a German spy discovers this deception and attempts to warn the Germans ahead of time. It seems odd though that the fate of the entire nation at war hinges on one agent.
We knew Canaris; we knew we had him fooled; we felt we could have gone on fooling him. A new broom may mistrust his predecessor’s agents. There’s more—we’ve had some defections from the other side, people who would have betrayed the Abwehr’s people over here if they hadn’t been betrayed already. (Ch.8, p.73)
A little misstep on Faber’s behalf complicates his scheme. A seductive landlady who might have stumbled upon his radio transmission quarter is killed, leaving behind a trail traceable by the MI5. With dogged MI5 agents on his trail, Fabel attempts t escape England and deliver the news to Hitler. Meanwhile, there is a parallel story involving David and Lucy Rose, a young RAF pfficer and his newly-wed wife. A car wreck permanently confine him to a wheelchair. Later, they love to a secluded island off the coast of Scottland, where the couple takes up sheep-farming. His ego badly hurt, David has become alienated from his wife.
Follett deftly steers the novel clear from falling into clichés. He proceeds with a very British tone of controlled, leisure tension. He lures reader over to the Needle’s point of view, forcing one to admire his ingenuity and physical strength. He kills anyone in his way with his deadly stiletto, even his own confederate. But what keeps lurks in reader’s mind is that Faber will eventually cross paths with the Roses on the island. Follett transform a generic, not-so-original spy plot into a spy gavotte that holds one’s breath as the dancers slowly come together. It’s with satisfaction to see this choreography, if not the most pleasant one, between the ingenious spy and the lovestavred wife, despite his occasional heavy-handed romance.
Eye of the Needle is a satisfying man-on-the-run thriller, but ironically, the ruthless spy who kills anyone seeing his face cannot bring himself to resolve his ultimate problem by killing. It’s a book full of twists.
336 pp. Signet. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]