Review: Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett (1978)


My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 3/12/2017

Lists:  Best Thriller List


  • Lifetime Challenge
  • Cloak & Dagger Challenge
  • The Milanof-Schock Library 2017 Challenge


One enemy spy knows the secret to the Allies’ greatest deception, a brilliant aristocrat and ruthless assassin — code name: “The Needle” — who holds the key to ultimate Nazi victory.

Only one person stands in his way: a lonely Englishwoman on an isolated island, who is beginning to love the killer who has mysteriously entered her life.

All will come to a terrifying conclusion in Ken Follett’s unsurpassed and unforgettable masterwork of suspense, intrigue, and the dangerous machinations of the human heart.


Read for my lifetime challenge (1978).

This is a fantastic page-turner that outshines most contemporary thrillers. I could hardly bear to put it down for the day and a half it took me to devour it!

The story is set during WWII just before the allies invade at Normandy. This first offensive by British, US and allied forces could determine the entire war. The only chance they have is if they can land where the Germans aren’t expecting them. Otherwise they’ll be decimated as they try to get their armies ashore. They will win or lose the war on the success of this invasion. All of this is in the forward, so I’m not giving anything away.

In order to accomplish this, the British sets up a ruse to try to fool the Germans into thinking they’re going to invade at a different spot, Calais. It’s critical that the Germans believe this. Endangering the operation is one brilliant German spy, code named “Die Nadel” (the needle). The Brits know he exists, but they don’t know what he looks like and have never been able to catch him. If Die Nadel figures out their gambit, and can get that information to Hitler, the invasion will fail and the war will be lost.

In one sense, this is a story about the search for one spy. But the stakes are so high, and the characters are so clever, it takes on global importance and the tension is incredible. The foremost character is Die Nadel himself. I love that we get his POV early on. We get to see how ruthless he is, how cautious and clever, how innocuous and charming he can be. I wouldn’t say you’ll find yourself rooting for him, because the reader (one assumes) does not want him to succeed. But you get caught up in his story and can viscerally feel his desperate attempt to get his information to his homeland.

Other characters include the MI6 guys trying to track down Die Nadel, Godliman (a British professor turned intelligence officer) and Bloggs (a younger MI6 agent). It’s interesting to see their efforts to track the spy down, how MI6 worked at the time. Then there’s the couple on the island where Die Nadel lands-a young woman, Lucy, and her husband, David, who was crippled in a car accident. They take Die Nadel in at first, thinking he’s a stranded traveler, and it turns into a cat-and-mouse game on the island.

The writing is very tight and efficient and this is a purely plot-driven book. There are multiple murders, elaborate traps that fail (until they don’t), and lots of near escapes. The action never stops, but it never falls to the level of a car chase either. It’s all believable and necessary. The characters fight heroically and intelligently.

I highly recommend this masterpiece of a thriller to one and all.

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