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Jackdaws Hardcover – December 3, 2001
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Penzler Pick, November 2001: Each book by Ken Follett, one of the most successful suspense writers of our time, is a welcome event. With Jackdaws, he returns to his most successful era, the darkest days of World War II.
It is 1944 and the Allies are preparing for the invasion of Europe. In the occupied town of Sainte-Cecile, the French Resistance is preparing to blow up the chateau that now houses the crucial telephone exchange connecting the French telephone system to that of Germany. Bombers have been unable to inflict enough damage on the chateau to disrupt communications for more than a few hours at a time, but the Allies need to make sure that communications is down for longer so that there will be as little warning of the invasion as possible.
Felicity Clariet, known as Flick, is a British secret agent patrolling the streets around the chateau waiting for the first explosions that will give the signal for the attack to begin. She is married to Michel, a Resistance fighter. When the operation goes horribly wrong, they barely escape with their lives and Flick returns to her home in London--but not for long. When Flick returns to France it will be as part of an audacious, quickly assembled plan to put female spies in the chateau as telephone operators and cleaners, enabling the Allies to destroy the ability of the Exchange to warn Germany in advance of the landing on the beaches of Normandy. The twists and turns of the plot will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Follett tells us that Jackdaws is based on a true story. The Special Operations Executive sent 50 women into France as secret agents. Thirty-six survived. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
Returning to the WWII setting of the novels that made him famous, Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca, Follett (Code to Zero) delivers a very entertaining, very cinematic thriller about a ragtag, all-female band of British agents, code-named Jackdaws, sent to blow up a key telephone exchange in France on the eve of D-Day. Well, not quite all female: one "woman" recruited for the job by heroine Felicity Clairet, aka Flick, a major with the British Special Operations Executive, is a transvestite and that's just one among many twists that make this novel such fun. Opposed to Flick and her team are two Nazi villains whose escape from central casting doesn't keep them from playing their parts with zest: suave and urbane Maj. Dieter Franck, a master of psychological and physical torture, charged with breaking the Resistance in northern France, and Sturmbannfuhrer Willi Weber, brutal guardian of the chateau that houses the telephone exchange. The action runs over 10 days. After a failed assault by the Resistance on the chateau, an assault that introduces the novel's key players, Flick returns to England, racing the clock to recruit a team of women who can infiltrate the chateau by posing as its French domestics; among her selections are an imprisoned murderess, an aristocrat and that transvestite. The English scenes are interesting enough but lack suspense, which Follett supplies in spades by cutting to France, where Major Franck tracks Resistance members and gets wind of Flick's mission which, when at last underway, will enthrall readers. Adventure, romance, derring-do and a bit too much nasty violence crowd the pages of what promises to be one of Follett's most popular novels ever. Major ad/promo; simultaneous abridged and unabridged audio from Penguin Audio.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Jackdaws contained an amazing amount of "fluf", a continuous stretch of 49 pages in one instance, all of which rendered Jackdaws a very boring novel.
"Jackdaws" felt rushed, and I almost got the idea he wrote it for a paycheck rather then enjoyment. The story line was clever, but it was predictable and felt forced. The character development left much to be wanted, and was quite stereotypical. The worst, and my pet peeve in literature, was the unrealistic dialogue. The interaction between the characters was dry, cliche, and unrealistic. The plot left many holes, but by the time I got to them I just wanted the book to be over. The only reason I finished it was because I was stuck on a flight and this was my only entertainment.
Save your time and money, and read something good Mr. Follet has written.