Jackdaws by Ken Follett


Once again I got trapped in Follett’s net. Another page turner but , in my opinion, … not as powerful as  Eye of the Needle.

After reading extensively his numerous books and having become acquainted with  his narrative techniques, I still take a lot of pleasure in reading his historical spy stories, even if I know there will be a positive outcome, as in each of his books. I like happy ends. Reading his books has become, in the long run, a sort of secret pleasure to get away from it all!! 😉 

The words “Jackdaw (of Rheims)” rang a bell.  My English was far from perfect in those days- still isn’t, far from it – but I remember the story told by an old friend of mine, more than 40 years ago.My friend didn’t realize then I didn’t have a clue what a jackdaw was. I understood it was a bird but what type, no idea 😉 Now, I know ( french version) 😉 

Ken Follett refers to that story when his heroin – Flick- remembered the medieval legend of the Jacdaw of Rheims in a rhymed version learned at school. ” The  story of the bird that stole the bishop’s ring.The monks couldn’t figure out who had taken it, so the bishop cursed the unknown thief… Next thing they knew, the jackdaw appeared all bedraggled, and they realized he was suffering from the effects of the curse, and must be the culprit. Sure enough, they found the ring in his nest” To end the story: the cardinal withdrew his curse and the jackdaw recovered and ended up being made a saint after his death.

So much for that! Nice to recall, while reading a book, times gone by 😉 

The story in Ken Follett’s book relates 6 women’s struggle and hardship to destroy the Nazis’ communication network  near Reims before D-Day. So it was very tempting for Follet to name his book “Jackdaws”. These women have just a few days to build up a team capable of doing such a deed. The constitution of that  commando unit reminded me of a film released in 1967 called The Dirty Dozen

The S.O.E  couldn’t be picky in choosing the team members to carry on the sabotage, so they recruited second fiddles including a murderess ( tough enough to survive), an aristocrat ( a shooting expert), a German homo (master in disguise) … all of them go on a 2 -day- training ( that training should have taken 3 months! A sort of crash course in spycraft! )  before being parachuted into occupied France. Fortunately their leader, Major Flick,  is a ruthless, cunning, intelligent agent  constantly challenged by her clever German devilish counterpart, Dieter Franck, a Machiavellian  officer able to spot the psychological weaknesses in each secret agent, and who would never hesitate to use horrific tortures to have them give info and let secrets out, if needed. Some parts of the book relating to the means of torturing people send chills down your spine! 

Follett dedicated his book to these brave women. He wrote: ” Exactly 50 women were sent into France as secret agents by the Special Operations Executive during The Second World War. Of those, 36 survived the war. The other 14 gave their lives”.

A part of history revealed. I didn’t know anything about these brave women.