117 of 119 people found the following review helpful
One of the earliest books in this genre that I read was the, "Eye Of The Needle". The author has since ranged widely amongst a variety of subjects, however with, "Jackdaws", Mr. Follett returns to World War II just prior to the Invasion Of Normandy. And like his previous efforts with this historical setting it is very well done, and will bring fond memories to those readers who were waiting for him to turn his pen once again to this theme.
The book is a substantial work offering readers well over 400 pages of taught writing that unfolds over a little more than a week prior to D-Day. Like all books of this event it contains heroes, however they play against the background here, as a heroine takes charge of the story as well as the events in the book. The book begins with a notation that states that 50 women worked as secret agents in France for The Special Executive during the war. The book never seems to reach the moniker of historical fiction, although comments at the end strongly insinuate there was a real woman who, at the very least provided the inspiration for the heroine, "Flick". The women who volunteered to serve behind enemy lines in occupied France, and repeatedly traveled back and forth across The Channel during the war were clearly remarkable women, and were as fearless as any of their male counterparts.
This novel is a bit scattered in its tone. The changes in the mood of the book work well as a whole, however they can seem a bit jarring and out of place as the book is read. If very graphic descriptions of the most brutal interrogation of both men and women are an issue, several areas of this book will be troublesome to read. I don't feel the length to which Mr. Follett took the level of detail was necessary, he is a wonderful writer, and many of these dungeon settings with their attendant horrors struck me as gratuitous. The main event of the book will either work well for a reader, or will be dismissed as being far too improbable. Mr. Follett increases the likelihood of the latter response as the team that is selected is from a practical standpoint untrained but for Flick, and their conduct is so outrageous it tests the reader's ability to suspend disbelief. There are always amazing true stories conducted by a group that should have a near zero chance of prevailing, however Mr. Follett takes the group a step further by making them all fairly dysfunctional as individuals. This is a bit like the stories of a group of jailed soldiers being granted a chance at redemption. The difference is they are at least soldiers, again with the exception of Flick, the group ranges as far as a member who can be likened to Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria, albeit reversed.
As odd as it may sound in conclusion I did very much enjoy the book. The only rationale I can offer is that the Heroine Flick was a wonderful character, beautifully written, and as competent as any Special Forces Operative. So while there may be bits that will make a reader wince with incredulity, read on. This is very much a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
In "Jackdaws", Ken Follett returns to the form of "Eye of the Needle" and "The Key to Rebecca", spinning a tale that if a bit melodramic and not quite believable, is still entertaining and well worth the time. "Jackdaws" is reportedly based (very loosely, one would assume) on the true story of female allied spies operating in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. It "stars" Felicia 'Flick' Clairet, a British agent married to a French resistance fighter. As with many of Follett's novels, the sub plot of a love affair is woven into the story line, likely to insure additional appeal for broader audience, as well as the attraction for a possible screen play. Follett at his best is a master story teller, and he is in top form with "Jackdaws". He crafts a suspense that is palpable and engrossing, set with just enough history to establish some credibility. But while the plot and story development are superb, the same level of depth falls short in the character development. The characters appear to come straight from central casting: the brave but irreverent hero/spy, the sadistic Nazi officer, a female crew of ally agents reminiscent of "The Dirty Dozen". On balance, a good book for the beach or a long plane trip: mindless entertainment that will neither make you think nor disappoint.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2002
I have just read my first, but definitely not last Ken Follett novel. I received Jackdaws as a Christmas present. What a present it turned it out to be!
Jackdaws, based on a true story, needs to be made into a blockbuster movie. It tells the story of how people thrust into dire situations can do amazing things. Felicity Clairet, aka Flick, is a strong main character, operating behind enemy lines in occupied France. On her trail is Dieter Franck, Gestapo agent. What ensues is one of the best cat- and- mouse chases I personally have ever read in modern fiction.
During the entirety of the book, I kept saying to myself, This is a master at work! There were several interesting supporting characters. At times you need a card to keep track of these characters, but they are thoroughly believable and well written.
This is easily one of my all-time favorite books. Think of The Fugitive during Nazi WWII occupied France and you are getting the idea of just how impressive this novel is!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The jackdaw is a bird and, in this case, the code name of a group of six female British spies in WWII. They are assigned the daunting task of infiltrating a French chateau that serves as the communications center of the Nazis. Their mission is to destroy the communications of the Nazi northern European theatre on the eve of the D Day invasion thereby wreaking havoc in the Nazi defensive coordinations. Flick Clairet is the leader of this intrepid bunch and must deal with, not only the risk of the mission, but also the cattiness of her team. On the opposite side is Dieter Franck, a Nazi intelligence officer assigned by Rommel to thwart the efforts of the French resistance. He manages to stumble upon the mission of the Jackdaws. Franck is also a highly effective, yet ruthless, interrogator and with a team of sadistic Gestapo agents, obtains his information about the group. It quickly becomes a cat and mouse game to see if the British agents succeed.
Ken Follet has returned, once again, to the arena that made his reputation-- WWII spy intrigue. He has, by doing so, written one of his finest works and may be one of the best WWII spy novels in many years in terms of sheer thrills, rapid fire pacing and truly fun characters. Follett alternates the point of view between Flick and Dieter Franck so we always know what the other side is doing. This technique also serves to develop a sense of sympathy for both sides. Even though we know Dieter represents true evil, we also come to understand that ultimately he has a job to do and must do it at all costs even if he must make a pact with the devil. In spite of the horrors around him, he is a man with moral principals who justifies his actions by claiming he derives no enjoyment in the torture he must use to obtain his information. Flick is also a character consumed with conflicting emotions. She must also ruthlessly kill and justify her action under the umbrella of a war. The alternating point of view provides, not only this contrast in goals and ideology, but, propels the action faster and faster as Dieter pursues Flick. Ultimately, the pages fly!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2001
At a time when the CIA and Special Forces are fighting the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and terrorists, patriotism and heroism is back in style. Ken Follet takes us back to a romanticized version from fifty years ago, with a thriller about espionage, Resistance fighters, SOE, MI5, Gestapo, and the SS.
This is a very familiar setting and theme. Fifteen years ago, Larry Collins' "Fall from grace" did an excellent job of creating for the reader a cat-and-mouse game of spies, agents, and Resistance fighters attempting to pave the way for D-Day. It remains a definitive piece of Resistance fiction. And the "Dirty Dozen" film earned worldwide popularity with its collection of misfits taking on the German elite in their lair.
"Jackdaws" is a rich blend of both of these, with the usual dashing, handsome and beautiful, sexy, multilingual, heroic, tormented yet highly motivated characters on both sides of the conflict. Follett makes full use of our fascination and respect for people who for the right reasons put themselves into terrible situations, fictional, semi-fictional or historically accurate.
Some readers have and will decry the chauvinist or simply politically incorrect use of the strange group of women Follett assembled to sabotage the critical German communications link immediately before D-Day. For me, it is another interesting twist on an old, oft-worked theme. Sure, Follett's lesbian characters are drawn with a man's hand, but authors have always struggled to reach outside their own experiences, even if stereotypes necessarily result. And scenarios stretch reality, but fiction has that right as well.
Jack Higgins used to do a good job with this genre, before he went over to more modern times and the IRA. Follett remains a first-class writer of World War-based fiction. And "Jackdaws" will not disappoint.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2001
This is an excellent book of its genre, satisfying throughout and VERY well researched. Although other reviews castigate the author for imagining that women could successfully operate undercover in WWII France, the truth is that many did.
Follett has taken a real story and changed it enough for fictional uses, and the main characters are believable--except, perhaps, for their stunning looks. NO undercover agent has remarkable looks--the idea is to blend in, not stand out. And I DO quibble with the range of female stereotypes that make up the Jackdaws. Perhaps this is because the author is male, but I think it's more likely that he didn't wish to spend too much time fleshing them out. Yet the principal characters, and many of the secondary and tertiary, are firmly drawn and realized.
The plotting is generally deft and sure. Though the dramatic moments in the last third are predictable, given the requirements of the genre, Follett still manages to keep the tension high. I particularly like the anti-climax, regarding medals; all workers in a bureaucracy will recognize its realism.
As for the explicit torture routines--how can you write about Nazi interrogations and not include this, especially if you wish to convey what's at stake, personally, for the protagonists. Readers may not realize it, but Follett refrained from meticulously describing the horrific sights, smells, and sounds of such horrors.
In sum, a good, solid "read" worth the money.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2008
Ken Follet achieves the nearly impossible task of creating genuine suspense about an event that is well-known, using fresh characters, clever plotting, and surprising twists on an old story. You will enjoy this book on a long plane flight, or just sitting out on your porch during the lazy days of summer. I always enjoy Ken Follet's approach to history--crackerjack pacing, strong dialogue, and a deep desire to entertain. If only all writers cared as much about their audience's enjoyment as Follet does, TV would become obsolete.
Donald Gallinger is the author of The Master Planets
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2002
Ken Follett, once again, finely blends history with fiction, in his latest WWII thriller, a story of 6 female undercover agents ( although one isn't all what she appears to be ) who attempt to crush the Nazi communication network in Europe literally days, and even hours, prior to D-Day. "Jacdaws" is based upon the true story of Pearl Witherington, who was one of the 50 female spies used in the second world war. Her fictional counterpart is Felicity "Flick" Clariet, who works with the French underground.
The first half of the book is really two stories told simultaneously. The first is the story of how Flick recruits and trains her team to go into Nazi occupied France to destroy a chateau serving as the center of all German communciations after a failed mission, which opens the story, was unsuccessful in doing so. The second story of the first half involves Dieter Franck, interrogator and torturer par excellence and how he plans to break the back of the Resistance. The sections with Flick and the recruitment of her team are somewhat shallow. Her recruits are somewhat unbelievable at first. When they are finally inducted into the armed services, Flick says to them ( and I swear this is the line from the book ) "You're in the army. Now drink your cocoa and go to bed." Dieter Franck comes across as much more of a deeper character. An aide to Rommel of Desert Fox fame, he is drawn very well by Follet and, as a result, it appears a tad unbelievable that he would be outwitted by conicidence and blind luck when tracking Flick. In the second half, when the two stories merge, the action and plot flows much better.
Still, Follett lets the gals be the heroes, as he should. Paul Chancellor and the boys from SOE and MI6 are all secondary. I'm not giving anything away by saying that the Normandy Invasion comes off without a hitch and it's no secret that we win WWII. Though "Jacdaws" is not as riveting as "Eye of the Needle" nor as in depth as "Pillars of the Earth", it is a good beach read. Also, a movie starring, maybe, Angelina Jolie, is certainly sure to follow.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2002
Ken Follett has taken the World War II spy mission novel down an entertaining but certainly untravelled road. The plot is standard stuff. Allied commandos parachute into occupied France to a destroy key installation in support of the D Day invasion. There are all the usual phases - assemble the team, train the team, plan the mission etc, conduct the raid.
The whole concept, however, has been rewritten with a 2001 twist. First, the commandos are all women. I found this interesting, new and plausible. This, however, is just the beginning. The herione's brother is gay. One of the " woman " commandos, is, in fact, a transvestite. Two of the women commandos are lesbians. These three items do little, if anything, to advance the plot and seem to have been written in just for the fun of it. There is nothing wrong with adding these items for no reason at all, but to do nothing with these items makes it look gratuitous.
There are several other " throw in " items that have nothing to do with the plot. Why did Follett make the Nazi antagonist suffer from migraines ? His migraines come into the story at several points, but they never lead to anything and are never critical to the plot. Why start the story with the herione married to a leader in the Resistance ? Early on, the heroine falls in love with someone else, and the Resistance husband is later killed. There is no point where the heroine really struggles with any issue or decision because she is married or married to a Resistance leader. So why was it there ?
The story is, in fact, rather loosely written and there are several items that just do not add up. For example, several of the commandos are killed before they reach the objective. However, when they reach the objective, the remaining commandos carry out the mission without being even slightly inconvienced by the absence of the others. So why did we have extra commandos ? Was it so we could have extra plot lines ? Was it so we could have some non essential commandos killed to show that things really are serious without really jeopardizing the mission ? It reminded me of old Star Trek episodes where the landing party took extra people so someone could be killed by the monster.
Despite all this, however, the story is very entertaining. The plot moves along very quickly and there are numerous detours as fortune, good or bad, impacts on the commandos. The bad guy is suitably smart and evil and heroine is beautiful, deadly and resourceful. Enjoy the story and just dont look too closely.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I just finished reading this new Ken Follet, and I am not really sure what to say. I really liked it, I liked the idea of an all female resistance team, but something just missed the mark. The action was great, and kept my interest, but I really started out liking it more than I did when I finished it.In other words, great lead in, not enough follow up. I felt like Mr. Follet skimped on character details or something, I just never felt really invested in the characters, just invested in their mission. I gave if 4 star instead of 3, just because it is Ken Follet, and if you are an espionage fan, you should read this. However, I don't think it is his best.