Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Voulez-vous la guerre avec moi? Non.

Title: Jackdaws
Author: Ken Follett

Here's the deal: in order to break German lines of communication in World War Two, the British Special Operations Executive send their best undercover operative (who has spent two years coordinating the French Resistance) to Reims, France to blow up a major telephone exchange, thereby facilitating the Normandy invasion.

Here's the catch: her (yes, her) team is composed entirely of women. And since most able-bodied women are already assigned elsewhere to help the war effort, she's not getting the pick of the litter. Her team includes a felonious Gypsy, a pathological liar, a sexagenarian safe-cracker, two noblewomen (one a remorseless blabbermouth, the other with zero regard for rank or military protocol), and a transvestite. OK, so they're not ALL women.

Pitted against them is a ruthless German interrogator and his woman-on-the-side, a French hottie whose Jewish grandmother is a secret from the rest of the SS.

Here's the problem: Much as I like spy thrillers and strong female leads and interesting twists on how to handle clandestine operations, this was neither thrilling nor interesting, and the chicks weren't quite strong enough. It had just enough to keep me reading until I was done, but only barely. There was only one surprise (more on that later); the people you expect to hook up all hook up, the people you expect to hate, you hate, and the people you expect to like, you like. All the things you think will happen? They do. The heroine even marries the charming American with 1.5 ears in the epilogue, just as you know she will when they first meet and begrudgingly check each other out. The only surprise was one of the romantic pairings, and even that surprise was relatively minor.

It's a decent read, if there's not much else around (there wasn't), but it never grabbed me, and I actually started rooting for major characters to get killed off just to shake things up. Naturally, they ended up killing one of the characters I liked, right after allowing some character development, and allowed all the stagnant characters to march through to the epilogue. Wheee.

On the one hand, I found it lying on a bench in the airport, so I'm only out some time, but on the other hand, reading vivid descriptions of brutal interrogation practices was deeply unsettling. I think the best part of the entire book was the theory that in Britain, an American--even one missing most of an ear--qualifies as a sexy foreigner.

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posted by reyn at 4:39 PM


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