Author: Ken Follett
Published: 2001, NAL
Category: General Fiction
I'm trying to branch out and read more books by men, so I picked up this book, my first by Ken Follett. (NOT that I think books by men are more intelligent- Argh! Go Jane, go!--I'm just trying to broaden my horizons a bit.) I was thinking I could claim extra points because Jackdaws set in a war, but then I realized that the main characters are women, so maybe not. :)
Felicity (Flick) Clairet is an intelligence agent for the SOE during WWII. She's managed to stay alive longer than any other agent, mainly because she's really smart, ruthless, and relies heavily on her good instincts. Right before D-Day she's sent to France with a team of French resistance organizers to blow up a German telephone exchange. They are not successful--most of their group is killed, and Flick barely escapes back to England. Flick is determined to return to finish the job, as destroying the exchange would seriously cripple the enemy's ability to communicate during the coming invasion. She decides to put together a team of women to pose as the cleaning staff. The trouble is there are very few female agents, and those few are all assigned elsewhere. So she's forced to make do with the "rejects," women who were considered at one point for secret work, but passed over for some reason. She ends up with a very motley crew: an aristocratic snob, a pathological liar, an elderly engineer, a convicted murderer, and a male transvestite. They undergo a whirlwind 2-day training session and head to France for the dangerous mission.
The reason I picked this book up was the intriguing plot, and it surely delivers. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading--very exciting and suspenseful. The violence was upsetting to me, but then this is a book about war, so that's to be expected. "This is war, Peacock! You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, every cook will tell you." (Does anyone else love the movie Clue?) There are some truly unsettling torture scenes that I had to skim--they're not horribly graphic, but they were tough on me.
The characters are more interesting and complex than you often find in an adventure-type story. There's a German officer named Dieter Franck who is trying to stop the French resistance and who is determined to catch Flick. He is fascinating--you want to really hate him, because he's the bad guy and he tortures people. But he's not a sadist, he doesn't get off on it--he's disgusted by it and does feel remorse afterward. He just sees it as a necessary tool to get what he needs, and he is able to shut off his emotions and be completely cold to get it done. Flick is just as ruthless at times, though her motivations come off as more virtuous. She is a great heroine though--very brave and clever.
There's a little side love story that's very nice. Wartime romances are so dramatic!
So, I was entertained. And it was a nice break from my usual fare. :)