It took Spaggiari two months to hack into the Société Génerale bank in Nice. Security experts said the bank was impregnable. Spaggiari proved them wrong to the tune of 30,000,000 francs – the biggest bank job of all time. It was like a military operation – for months he led his pursuers a merry dance. When they finally had him at their mercy, he played his final stroke of genius…
This book is a nightmare. A London publisher bought a French book called Cinq Milliards au Bout de l’Egout, about a spectacular bank robbery in Nice, but the translation was very badly written. He got another, and it was worse. So offered me £750 to fix the book. This was after I had written Eye of the Needle but before it was published, and I needed the money.
I spent twelve days on the project, including a weekend in Nice. It’s still not a good book, but I turned a completely unpublishable manuscript into something more or less respectable. It was published in English under the pseudonym used by the original French authors. My name did not appear on the cover, but on the title page it said, ‘By Rene Louis Maurice with Ken Follett’.
I thought that was the end of it. But an unscrupulous American publisher tried to bring it out as the new Ken Follett book. I was outraged. After all the work I had put into Eye of the Needle and Triple, they wanted to present this thing that I had spent 12 days on as my number three. Not only was it not my best effort, it was well below what I could do.
I took them to court to try and stop publication. The judge enforced a compromise, under which they had to make it clear that I was one of four authors, and the book was not a novel. By the time the case was finished everybody knew that this book was a dud anyway. People knew there was something phoney about it, booksellers didn’t order it in great quantities, and it sold very modestly.
Unfortunately it continues to rear its ugly head every so often. A convicted con-man called Clemens von Bezard is still trying to flog it. I recently had to take legal action to stop him selling the rights for a game called Ken Follett’s Heist of the Century to a German toy company! I won that one but I’m afraid The Heist of the Century has plagued me for 30 years and will probably continue to do so.
Whatever you do, don’t buy it.
Listen to Ken’s view on The Heist of the Century
Listen to an excerpt
The Heist of the Century by ‘Rene Louis Maurice’ with Ken Follett — Fontana, London 1978. Later published by Arbor House as The Gentleman of 16 July.