Ken Follett has once again written a thriller that provides a steady dose of stomach-churning suspense, while throwing in enough dashes of humor to stave off the antacids. His latest, Jackdaws, immerses the reader in the dangerous, intrigue-filled life of a female spy, creating a gripping page-turner in the same spirit as his classic Eye of the Needle.

The setting is World War II, days before the Allied invasion of Normandy. Our guide is Felicity "Flick" Clariet, the tough-talking, smart-as-a-whip secret agent who regularly drops into occupied France to rally the local resistance forces. She's the most experienced agent in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), and she's come up with a rather improbable plan to cripple German communication lines. Described as a "pretty girl with a heart of stone," Flick watched as an earlier attempt to destroy the Germans' central telephone exchange turned into a tragic fiasco, forcing her to return to England after a humiliating failure.

Hoping to salvage her pride and reputation, Flick comes up with an unorthodox plan that calls for an all-woman team, and she searches out six women fluent in French who might know something about engineering or explosives. Follett has a grand time producing one unlikely candidate after another as the reject "spy wannabe" pile is culled for possible recruits. Rescuing one woman from prison and lifting a drag queen from a nightclub, the Jackdaws team is a mix of "one flirt, one murderess, one safebreaker, one female impersonator, and one awkward aristocrat." It's refreshing that the girls never really jell in their whirlwind three-day training session; in fact, there's a lot of yelling and cursing as they learn how to land a parachute and, more importantly, how to kill.

Follett shows his gift for putting the reader right in the middle of the action with plenty of authentic details and narrowly thwarted disasters. Once the team lands in France it's a race to see if the Jackdaws will make it to their target before they're either killed or captured. The Germans are in hot pursuit, and one particularly evil dude on their tail has a talent for torture. The Jackdaws act both eerily prescient and endearingly stupid, but either way, you can't help cheering them on.

Nobody works the spies and Nazis M.O. better than Follett, and this high-spirited adventure doesn't disappoint. Intelligent thrillers are a rare find, and Follett delivers every time.

 

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