I’ve a fondness for spy thrillers but I find there’s a balancing act being played out, between the dense and labyrinthine world of Le Carre’s Smiley and the simpler world of Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb. I prefer some place in the middle, but probably nearer Smiley’s end. Finding a new spy thriller which I think I’ll like therefore isn’t a simple task. Talk about a ‘first world’ problem! Anyway, I thought I’d go old-school and try out Ken Follett’s 1978 novel Eye of the Needle.
Set in the period just ahead of the D-Day landings in June 1944, EOTN centres on the ”Die Nadel’ or the Needle, the Reich’s top spy on British soil. The Needle discovers the allies’ sleight of hand trick associated with the D-Day landings and is intent on informing the German high command, who have the utmost confidence in the Needle. The Needle is pursued across the British Isles by our intrepid intelligence forces – mainly an ageing professor and a former beat cop. The book is quite a romp and a real page turner: I read it over a long weekend. There weren’t as many twists and turns as I would have liked but it had certainly had me guessing throughout about where the story would go next. I read Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra in the last year or so and EOTN felt to me to be very much within the same vein. I’d recommend both.
Another book I read quite recently, which fell through the blogging crack is Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). I read Christie’s And then there were None a while ago and was very impressed. It’d been a long time since I’d read anything as eerie and chilling as that. I can understand why she is the world’s best-selling novelist of all time and I highly recommend it. On that basis I thought I’d read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot book. One of the later Poirot books was highly rated but I thought it best to start at the beginning. Styles is the name of a country estate, the owner of which is murdered. As ever, there are a range of suspects and our hero, Poirot, and narrator, Hastings, are on the case. While I enjoyed the traditional country estate setting and cluedo-like characters, I wasn’t overly enamoured with the book. The solving of the murder seemed pretty complicated and I’m not sure if many would have much chance solving the crime themselves. Poirot also seems on the periphery for much of the novel, though I suspect he is more prominent in the following books. I think I”ll give Poirot another go at some point in the future.
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