Monday, August 26, 2013

Eye of the Needle

And we're back to crime . . . with a classic spy thriller that took me about three days of beach reading to roll through, Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle (1978; Harper reprint 2010).  Every once in a while I feel compelled to announce my presence by saying "Singvogel, hier ist die Nadel" which of course comes from the movie, and isn't even in the book, but it recently made me think that I wasn't sure I had ever actually read this, so here we are.

Here's the Amazon-esque summary:  a ruthless German spy winds up on a remote Scottish island, populated only by a resentful cripple, his sexually frustrated wife, and their child.  He must make contact with the U-boat sent for his rendezvous, and these folks have to stop him because (they don't know this but we do) he is carrying a big secret that if it gets into German hands, will lose the war for the Allies.

There is more to the book than that, of course, in fact, there is the whole other side of the story, that of the doughty MI5 operative and Scotland Yard detective who are assigned to the case.  At the beginning, Percival Godliman and Frederick Blogs know nothing of their eventual nemesis, Heinrich Faber.  They are generally assigned to follow, capture, and possibly turn German spies in England.  As the story develops, they discover an agent who has evaded detection well into 1944 (most other German agents were quickly discovered and executed, imprisoned, or turned early in the war).  What the British are most concerned about is the discovery of the sham force that they've set up in Southeastern England, to deceive the Germans into thinking that the attack on the continent will come at Calais rather than Normandy.  The success of Operation Overlord depends on the Germans being relatively weak at Normandy, at least, weak enough to permit the Allies to gain the beachhead.

There is a third story - the young and tragic couple on the remote Scottish island, and how they got that way.  This story is told simultaneously with the others, and while we know of Faber's deceptions, the revealing of them to the British, and the subsequent chase to get Faber before he reveals the deception to the Germans, is completely gripping.  The writing isn't distinguished, but it doesn't get in the way of the well-crafted story which is the important thing.

Plus which, there is a lot of tea, and driving rain, so plenty of Brit atmosphere, if you like that sort of thing.  I'll have to watch the movie again, which would also be an excellent vacation activity but right now we are watching Star Trek (the new old one, the creation narrative, if you will).  I've also started, another in the great tradition of vacation reading, The Day of the Jackal, which is not quite so emotionally engaging as Eye of the Needle  but certainly deeply-researched and fast-paced.  But for now, live long, and prosper.

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