Eye of the Needle

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First edition

Eye of the Needle is a spy thriller novel written by Welsh author Ken Follett. It was originally published in 1978 by the Penguin Group under the title Storm Island. This novel was Follett's first successful, bestselling effort as a novelist, and it earned him the 1979 Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America. The revised title is an allusion to the "eye of a needle" aphorism.

The book was made into a motion picture in 1981, starring Donald Sutherland, with a screenplay adapted by Stanley Mann and directed by Richard Marquand.

Plot summary[edit]

Operation Fortitude was an Allied counter-intelligence operation run during World War II. Its goal was to convince the German military that the D-Day landings were to occur at Calais and not Normandy. As a part of Fortitude the fictitious First United States Army Group (FUSAG) was created. FUSAG used fake tanks, aircraft, buildings and radio traffic to create an illusion of an army being formed to land at Calais.

In 1940 Henry Faber is a German spy, called 'die Nadel' ('The Needle') for the use of a stiletto as his trademark weapon, working at a London railway depot, collecting information on troop movements. Faber is halfway through radioing this information to Berlin when his widowed landlady stumbles into his room hoping for intimacy. Faber fears that Mrs. Garden will eventually realize that he was using a transmitter and that he is a spy, so he kills her with his stiletto, then resumes his transmission. The book then introduces David, a trainee RAF pilot, and his bride Lucy. On their honeymoon David and Lucy are involved in a car crash. David loses the use of both his legs. Unable to fly in the Battle of Britain David grows embittered as he and Lucy retire to the isolated Storm Island off the east coast of Scotland.

Meanwhile British Intelligence has executed or recruited all German spies. Faber is the only successful one still at large. A history professor, Godliman, and a widowed ex-policeman, Bloggs, are employed by MI5 to catch him. They start with the interrupted broadcast and his codename Die Nadel. They connect the landlady’s murder to Faber by him having used his ‘needle’ during the transmission. They then interview Faber’s fellow tenants from 1940. One identifies Faber from a photo of him as a young army officer.

Faber is told by Berlin to investigate whether FUSAG is real or not. Faber discovers the army is a fake. He takes photos of a huge military base constructed only to look real from the air. Faber realizes that Normandy is where the D-Day landings are going to occur. Several soldiers try to arrest Faber, but he kills them with his stiletto. He then heads to Aberdeen, Scotland, where a U-boat will take him and his photos back to Germany.

Godliman and Bloggs realize what Faber is trying to achieve. There follows a long chase across Northern England and Scotland with both Hitler and Churchill getting personally involved. Faber escapes many times but his repeated killings allow MI5 to track him to Aberdeen.

Exhausted Faber finally steals a small trawler and sets out to meet the U-boat. Caught by a fierce storm, he is shipwrecked on Storm Island. He collapses at the lonely house where David and Lucy live, and is cared for by Lucy. Stuck in a loveless marriage to the crippled David she begins a physical relationship with Faber. David soon discovers both Lucy's infidelity and Faber’s FUSAG photos. David then tries to kill Faber, but after a struggle Faber kills David by rolling him off a cliff, and tells Lucy it was another accident. However, she discovers her husband's body and realizes the truth.

Faber realizes he may be caught so he decides to radio the information about FUSAG directly to Germany. Lucy stops him by short-circuiting the electricity in the cottage. By the logic which had guided his actions throughout his career, Faber should have killed Lucy - but he finds himself unable to do so, being deeply in love with her to the detriment of his mission and of simple self-preservation. Unable to send a radio message, Faber attempts to descend the cliff and swim to the waiting U-boat. Lucy throws a rock down at him, striking him and causing him to lose his balance and fall to his death. The RAF then appears and drives the U-boat away. A fictitious radio message is sent with Faber's call code, convincing the Germans that the invasion is targeting Calais. Bloggs comforts the widowed Lucy, eventually marrying her.

List of characters[edit]

  • Henry Faber – "Die Nadel", German spy
  • David Rose – young R.A.F. fighter pilot
  • Lucy Rose – David Rose's wife
  • Billy Parkin – young soldier who identified Faber
  • Percival Godliman – history professor, recruited to MI5
  • Frederick Bloggs – policeman, seconded to MI5

Film reference[edit]

In the film The Iron Lady there is a scene in which the retired Margaret Thatcher is shown reading Eye of the Needle while her husband Denis Thatcher remarks "In the end she kills him, you know."

See also[edit]

External links[edit]