Book Review: The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett

the key to rebeccaA brilliant and ruthless Nazi master agent is on the loose in Cairo. His mission is to send Rommel’s advancing army the secrets that will unlock the city’s doors. In all of Cairo, only two people can stop him. One is a down-on-his-luck English officer no one will listen to. The other is a vulnerable young Jewish girl….

Paperbook from my bookgroup. This edition published by Corgi Books approx 1981.  I’ve quite a few of the Follett books sitting, waiting to be read, but when this came up, I had (!) to accept it. It’s one of the latest additions to the pile, but one of the first to be read, in order to bring some semblance of control to my TBR pile (hahahaha).

Long before his move into historical (mediaeval) literature, Follett had quite the reputation for near-historical fiction, mainly set in WWII.  This is his second foray in to the style, and follows a part-German/part-Egyptian spy (Alex Wolff) and an English Army Major (William Vandam), both in Cairo in the middle of WWII. Due more to luck than anything else, Vandam becomes aware of Alex’s arrival in Egypt fairly early on, and it’s then a cat and mouse chase as Alex tries to find English military secrets to pass to Rommel, and Vandam tries to find and stop Wolff. There’s a mixture of both real and fictional events in this story – Follett doesn’t make the mistake of having real characters taking a different part in well documented events.

Both men use women to get what they want (sex being considered a Mata Hari type role both in love and war). There are the criminal masterminds in Cairo who play both sides of the fence if they know what’s good for them.

Neither men are entirely attractive: despite his son Billie, Vandam is heading downwards, hitting the gin bottle and the hashish more often than is good for him; Wolff uses people of both sexes in order to get what he wants – he deludes himself into thinking he doesn’t love Sonja, but does what he needs to in order to keep her on his side.

The story is told roughly chronological and primarily from the points of view of both Wolff and Vandam. There’s a little back story about Elena and Sonja to give some justification of their specific behaviours.

Reviewers seem to fall into one of two camps: those who ignore the sex completely, and those who find far too much kinky sex all together.  There is one threesome in the book (with what some people would call a “little slap and tickle” – ahem) but apart from that, all appears off screen so to speak.   Whilst Vandam is attracted to Elena, he has no problems in getting her to sleep with whoever in order to get what’s needed (despite feeling jealous in the mean time). Wolff is also willing to use the the famous belly-dancer Sonja for sex, and use her to distract English army people to allow Wolff to go through briefcases looking for secrets.  The main difference between Vandam and Wolff is that the former doesn’t sleep with Elena (even if he wants to), whilst the latter sleeps with Sonja (even if he doesnt).

Rebecca is not a “proper” character – it’s the book Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier that is used as an encryption key.

Not having read other books by Follett, I cant compare this to other books of his in this genre (such as The Eye of the Needle). However, I now have high hopes for the other books on my shelves, despite the genre change in the middle, and I hope he doesn’t disappoint!



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