Eye of the Needle
by Ken Follett
I used to devour thrillers, sometimes two or three a week. Stories by Alistair McLean, Ian Fleming, Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, Jeffrey Archer, Michael Crichton and others were often read at a sitting.
That being so, it is strange that I waited nearly twenty years after seeing the film version of Eye of the Needle before reading Follett’s early novel for the first time. I had read two or three of his other books in the thriller genre without them making any deep impression, possibly because, by then, I had moved away to other kinds of literature, both fiction and non-fiction.
What brought me back to Follett was when I read his enthralling historic epic, Pillars of the Earth for the first time. It was then I remembered Storm Island, as Needle was first entitled, and decided it was time I read that too. Since then, I have reread others.
Eye of the Needle – the film – starring a very young-looking Donald Sutherland as the German agent, Henry Faber, is as good as any in the James Bond series and better than most. But the book needs to be read too; there is so much more to it.
The plot of Eye of the Needle goes something like this: German agent Faber has been sent to Britain to tease out information about the allies plan for the invasion of Europe. He is a cold-blooded killer who uses a stiletto to dispatch his victims, earning him the appellation, die Nädel. When he discovers the true destination for the allies’ landing on the Continent is Normandy, he steals a boat.
En route to rendezvous with a German submarine off the coast of Scotland, he is shipwrecked on a lonely island inhabited by a young family. David has lost the use of his legs in a car accident but he can still drive and manages to run the farm with paid help. His wife, Lucy, forms an attachment to Faber and they have an affair.
Pursuing Faber are a couple of MI5 agents who realise they are up against a skilled and ruthless enemy. Even with the mighty resources of the British armed forces and police, are they going to be able to apprehend Faber before he imparts his knowledge to Berlin?
Henry Faber is cast as a villain in British eyes. However, Follett’s ability to build him as a hero too, and to foster the reader’s sympathy for him – regardless of nationality – makes us hope (just a bit) that he will get away.
Eye of the Needle loses very little of its suspense and excitement on a second (even a third) reading. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it by all means. But read the book first!