Returning to the WWII setting of the novels that made him famous, Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca, Follett (Code to Zero) delivers a very entertaining, very cinematic thriller about a ragtag, all-female band of British agents, code-named Jackdaws, sent to blow up a key telephone exchange in France on the eve of D-Day.
Well, not quite all female: one “woman” recruited for the job by heroine Felicity Clairet, aka Flick, a major with the British Special Operations Executive, is a transvestite – and that’s just one among many twists that make this novel such fun. Opposed to Flick and her team are two Nazi villains whose escape from central casting doesn’t keep them from playing their parts with zest: suave and urbane Maj Dieter Franck, a master of psychological and physical torture, charged with breaking the Resistance in northern France, and Sturmbannführer Willi Weber, brutal guardian of the chateau that houses the telephone exchange.
The action runs over ten days. After a failed assault by the Resistance on the chateau, an assault that introduces the novel’s key players, Flick returns to England, racing the clock to recruit a team of women who can infiltrate the chateau by posing as its French domestics; among her selections are an imprisoned murderess, an aristocrat and that transvestite. The English scenes are interesting enough but lack suspense, which Follett supplies in spades by cutting to France, where Major Franck tracks Resistance members and gets wind of Flick’s mission – which, when at last underway, will enthrall readers.
Adventure, romance, derring-do and a bit too much nasty violence crowd the pages of what promises to be one of Follett’s most popular novels ever.
— Publisher’s Weekly, 15 October 2001