Ken Follett is a British writer who, for a number of years, turned out spy thrillers that ranged from so-so to not bad. I have read most of them and consider the best of the lot to be Jackdaws. I was somewhat disappointed with his best-known work in this genre, Eye of the Needle, but maybe that is because I backtracked to his spy stories after I had read most of his recent stuff. I guess if espionage thrillers (which, pretty much, are set in the time of World War II) are the kind of thing you go for, he is an author you might like to read. But then, if you are a fan of spy fiction, you probably know that already.
On the other hand, even if you are afflicted with the inability to care less about the world of espionage, you will very probably appreciate the stuff he has written since he broadened his horizons.
In 1993, Follett published an excellent novel of mystery and intrigue, set in Victorian England, called A Dangerous Fortune. He followed that with his compelling 1995 novel, A Place Called Freedom. That one is set in both the British Isles and America in the days of British colonization. As compelling as the 1993 book was, the one that came out two years later was even more so. That said, they were at least books you could put down from time to time if you had something else to do. The two books Follett wrote just before them and after them were almost impossible for me to set aside, once I got started, and they are both long books. They are, without question, the two best books I have read this millennium and would easily fit into the top five novels I have ever read, period.
Let me provide a little background. A few Christmases ago, my best-friend-in-law (best friend’s wife, with whom I actually am good friends) sent me this book by Ken Follett, whom I had never read, but knew as someone who cranked out spy stories. The book was called The Pillars of the Earth. It had been out for some time (1989) but, apparently, her book club had discovered it earlier that year, and she figured I might like it.
I wasn’t sure I would. It didn’t seem to be about anything I’d be interested in (architecture?), but, I had learned by that time, not to let such a thing get in the way of a possible good read. One year she sent me this book called Seabiscuit. From horse racing, I knew nothing, yet I found the book to be one of the best biographies I have ever read…and it was about a horse.
On another Christmas she sent me a novel by some fellow named Carl Hiaasen, concerning some goings on somewhere in Florida-a place about which, if I had the aft portion of a rat to donate, I wouldn’t bother. And, again, it was excellent, to the extent that I have since read just about every novel that author wrote.
I think you get the picture. I was willing to give this latest thing a go…but, jeez, it looked awfully long.
The Pillars of the Earth is set in twelfth-century England, mostly during the time known as “The Anarchy.” That condition came about, as those things often did in that time, because there was no direct male heir to the throne of King Henry I. King Henry did have two legitimate children, one of whom was male: William. The son, as well as the king’s two bastard sons and a number of nobles, drowned in the White Ship Disaster of 1125. That is noted at the beginning of Follett’s book, and it actually did happen. As a result, there were two possible heirs left: the king’s daughter, Maude (as she is known in the book, but who was also called Matilda) and her cousin, Stephen. Because a great many people were not yet ready to accept a queen regent (having completely forgotten about Queen Boadicia, presumably), the people of the land were divided about whether to accept Maud or Stephen as their rightful monarch, and a low-key civil war ensued. That situation is not the predominant theme of the story, to be sure, but it is an inescapable part of it.
I bring up the White Ship disaster, because the story effectively begins with a hanging and ends with another. You will never fully understand the reason for the first hanging unless you remain aware of the shipwreck. What is more, that first hanging is a lynchpin for most of what follows in this very long, but completely captivating story.
Another true event, the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, also figures into the story and has a great deal to do with the final hanging.
There is one other important hanging involved, here: me, leaving you, the putative reader, hanging in suspense. When I read the book, the surprises and plot-twists hit me like so many thunderclaps. I do not want to deny you the same experience by spilling so much as one more bean. No word of who the good people and the bad people are; no inclination of who lives and who dies; nothing about who gets just desserts and who is swindled by cruel fate: read the book. Yes, it is 983 pages long (At any rate, my paperback edition is.), but you need to find the time. You will be very glad that you did.
It took eighteen years, but Ken Follett finally wrote a sequel to The Pillars of the Earth. It is called World Without End, and it is almost as good as its predecessor. And, when I say “almost, I mean it is roughly a thousandth of a micrometer away from being every bit as good.
On the other hand, you have probably heard enough about Ken Follett and his books for now. Read this one, and we’ll talk about the sequel some other time.
To sum up, Ken Follett is not the only expert on spy stories as this interesting link https://medium.com/@Digital_Jane/best-facebook-ad-spy-tools-2020-b4e71a17d8a6 might prove as it is about an expert in the branch of spying as a study where you can go through some interesting points given by her during her research to enhance your knowledge.