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Fall of Giants

Follett gets big again

A 1,008-page book about World War I written by an expert in medieval architecture hits the shelves Tuesday – and it’s already a bestseller.

Surprising?

Not when the writer is Ken Follett, one of the world’s best-loved living novelists, whose more than 20 books – primarily mystery-thrillers – have sold more than 100 million copies and included four No. 1 bestsellers.

Follett’s long new book, Fall of Giants, chronicles the early part of the 20th century, including the Great War and the Russian Revolution, through the eyes of a German spy, a spoiled English earl, a Russian factory worker, a Welsh coal miner, a US presidential aide and their families.

The story opens at the earl’s Welsh country estate as he holds a house party for the King of England on the eve of the war. It ends in post-WWI Germany at the beginning of Adolph Hitler’s climb to power.

“Giants” may well be riding the wave of publicity of the popular Pillars of the Earth miniseries, which starred Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell and was based on Follett’s novel about the building of a cathedral during one of the darkest periods of English history.

But when Follett was writing “Pillars”, publishers considered the book something of a risk. Follett had gotten his first taste of success at age 27, when his 1978 World War II mystery-thriller Eye of the Needle became a bestseller, and followed up with a string of mystery-thrillers, including The Third Twin. A huge novel about cathedrals was a huge departure from his tried-and-true formula. But the 1989 novel ultimately became the writer’s most-enduring novel.

Is “Giants” good? It certainly doesn’t read as long as feels in your lap, with great characters and wonderful historical detail. But Follett seems to lack the passion for the subject that made “Pillars“ such a classic.

He’s got time to get it right, though. “Giants” is only the first volume of a planned “Century Trilogy” Follett is writing to cover the years 1900 to 1999. Find a comfortable chair.

Jennifer Shaw, The New York Post, 26 September 2010