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Hornet Flight by Ken Follett


Rating: (Recommended)


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Readers can count on Ken Follett to present interesting characters who appeal to us and for whom we cheer or jeer as the action unfolds. Follett’s latest offering, Hornet Flight, ranks up with some of his better works including Pillars of the Earth and Eye of the Needle. Set in Denmark in mid-1941, Follett takes us inside the Danish resistance who are trying to help England fight Germany. An eighteen-year-old hero, Harald Olufsen, and his girlfriend, Karen, a Jewish ballerina, try to fly film of a German radar installation to England in a Hornet Moth, a plane unlikely capable of making the 600 mile flight. The heroes are in trouble at every turn. A family enemy and police officer, Peter Flemming, pursues Harald relentlessly. Flemming is the perfect villain.

Here’s an excerpt from early in the book about Hermia, Harald’s brother’s fiancé and the person in England gathering information from a group of Danish resisters (pp. 78-79):

Hermia Mount was about to get the sack.

This had never happened to her before. She was bright and conscientious, and her employers had always regarded her as a treasure, despite her sharp tongue. But her current boss, Herbert Woodie, was going to tell her she was fired, as soon as he worked up the courage.

Two Danes working for M16 had been arrested at Kastrup aerodrome. They were now in custody and undoubtedly being interrogated. It was a bad blow to the Nightwatchmen network. Woodie was a peacetime MI6 man, a long-serving bureaucrat. He needed someone to blame, and Hermia was a suitable candidate.

Hermia understood this. She had worked for the British civil service for a decade, and she knew its ways. If Woodie were forced to accept that the blame lay with his department, he would pin it on the most junior person available. Woodie had never been comfortable working with a woman anyway, and he would be happy to see her replaced by a man. At first Hermia was inclined to offer herself up as the sacrificial victim. She had never met the two aircraft mechanics—they had been recruited by Paul Kirke—but the network was her creation and she was responsible for the fate of the arrested men. She was as upset as if they had already died, she did not want to go on.

After all, she thought, how much had she actually done to help the war effort? She was just accumulating information. None of it had ever beenused. Men were risking their lives to send her photographs of Copenhagen harbor with nothing much happening. It seemed foolish.

But in fact she knew the importance of this laborious routine work. At some future date, a reconnaissance plane would photograph the harbor full of ships, and military planners would need to know whether this represented normal traffic or the sudden buildup of an invasion force—and that point Hermia's photographs would become crucial.

Furthermore, the visit of Digby Hoare had given an immediate urgency to her work. The Germans' aircraft detection system could be the weapon that would win the war. The more she thought about it, the more likely it seemed that the key to the problem could lie in Denmark. The Danish west coast seemed the ideal location for a warning station designed to detect bombers approaching Germany.

And there was no one else in MI6 who had her ground-level knowledge of Denmark. She knew Poul Kirke personally and he trusted her. It could be disastrous if a stranger took over. She had to keep her job. And that meant outwitting her boss.

 "This is bad news," Woodie said sententiously as she stood in front of his desk.

  His office was a bedroom in the old house of Bletchley Park. Flowered wallpaper and silk-shaded wall lights suggested it had been occupied by a lady before the war. Now it had filing cabinets instead of wardrobes full of dresses, and a steel map table where once there might have been a dressing table with spindly legs and a triple mirror. And instead of a glamorous woman in a priceless silk negligee, the room was occupied by a small, self-important man in a gray suit and glasses.

Follett keeps the plot moving quickly, and readers will want to keep turning pages to see what happens next to Harald and Karen. Treat yourself to reading Hornet Flight.

Steve Hopkins, January 1, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the February 2003 issue of Executive Times


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