Email this review


Follett, whose thrillers have been impressively tough-minded, goes all soft now--with a pre-WW I suspense-romance that recycles the Eye of the Needle premise (woman adores assassin) but surrounds it with the soupy conventions of corny family-saga fiction. In 1914, elegant Lydia is the prim, devoted wife of conservative diplomat Lord Walden and the protective mother of 18-year-old Charlotte. But 19 years ago, back in her native Russia, well-born Lydia was the lustfully liberated lover of a young anarchist named Feliks. (She married Walden, in fact, to save Feliks' life when he was arrested.) So now, when Lord Walden is about to begin delicate, war-minded negotiations with Russia's Prince Orlov (Lydia's cousin), guess who's on his way to England to assassinate Orlov? Feliks, of course--whose first murder attempt (hijacking Walden's carriage) fails when he catches sight of old-flame Lydia and momentarily loses his nerve. And--though Feliks then seeks out Lydia, rekindles her flame, and tricks her into telling him where Orlov is hiding out--the second attempt also fails; moreover, despite her passion, Lydia won't knowingly help Feliks to kill Orlov (who's in hiding again). So Feliks now starts following Lydia's naive daughter Charlotte--who, as it happens, has just begun rebelling against her quasi-Victorian upbringing. (There's the usual suffragette sequence--handled less well here than in dozens of other historical novels.) And, implausibly, Charlotte quickly becomes Feliks' unwitting accomplice, while Feliks--suddenly humanized--stews guiltily, because. . . Charlotte is his daughter! The finale, then: Feliks goes after Orlov, who's at the Walden country estate; Lydia figures out Feliks' plan but can't warn her husband without revealing the secret of Charlotte's paternity; Charlotte learns who Feliks really is; and, after killing Orlov, Feliks sacrifices his life to save Charlotte's. Unfortunately, this operatic, sentimental-melodrama setup is full of holes--from the coincidence-heavy plotting to the unconvincing characterizations to the dubious history. (You never believe that Orlov's death will really prevent World War I.) And the narration is uncharacteristically slack--heavy on flashbacks and droopily emotional internal-monologues. Still, though this is Follett's weakest book by far, the big-name byline and the overall readability (plus a jolt or two of graphic sex) should ensure a sizeable readership--with historical-romantics more likely to be pleased than Follett's usual thriller fans.
Pub Date: May 14th, 1982
ISBN: 0451208706
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1982


FictionA COLUMN OF FIRE by Ken Follett
by Ken Follett
FictionEDGE OF ETERNITY by Ken Follett
by Ken Follett
FictionWINTER OF THE WORLD by Ken Follett
by Ken Follett