Ken Follett - Hornet Flight

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Ken Follett's Hornet Flight: interesting tale of espionage, but...

May 21, 2005 (Updated May 21, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A subject that cries out for a good novel. This is not that novel.

Cons:Too many coincidences, and flat characters. Bleah.

The Bottom Line: A novel that has a great premise, and a promising start, but it's such a silly novel that I can't honestly recommend it.


After reading Ken Follett's most recent publication, Whiteout, I was hesitant about picking up another one of his books. Full of too many coincidences, I was afraid of delving into another book that had that problem. But -- I also like well-written thrillers, and if the story is good, then there's a good chance I'll wade through it. Sadly, this did not occur with the novel Hornet Flight.

Set in 1941, just after the Nazis have invaded Denmark, this concerns the fate of one family, the Olufsens, and their two sons, Arne and Harald. So far, Denmark has been spared most of the troubles of other countries that have been invaded by the Germans, but the balance could shift at any time. Arne is serving in the country's puppet military, working on flying, and thinking a lot of his English fiancee. But while he does know that there is a resistance movement, so far no one has contacted him.

His younger brother, Harald, is still at school, and getting ready to graduate and go on to his university studies. He's mad for physics, and wishes that he could do something to help get the Nazis out, but a drunken prank has earned him the enimity of a man who hates his family passionately, and when Harald falls into his clutches, the boy finds himself in even more dire straits than having to face his stern father. And more importantly still, Harald knows something that the British need to know if they are to survive the relentless onslaught of the Luftwaffe.

And then there is Peter Flemming, who hates the Olufsens even more than he mourns the devastating accident that has crippled his wife Inge. Along with his partner, Tilde, Flemming is determined to root out all opposition to the police crackdowns, and is the sort of person that you can hate and not feel guilty about. He's the worst sort of petty bureaucrat that loathes any questioning or morality, and tends to make his own vindictiveness the overriding concern.

There is also Arne's fiancee, Hermia Mount, a member of the MI6, and who runs a band of agents in occupied Denmark. While she's not fending off the lecherous advances of a fellow spy, she's busy wondering about Arne, and trying to cope with night bombings and just surviving. The last major character in this is Karen Duchwitz, a pretty young ballerina and the sister of Harald's best buddy in school, Tik.

When Harald has to hide out, it's to Tik and Karen that he comes to, and discovers a battered old Hornet Moth in a barn. Can he fix it and escape to England with the information that the British need? That's the main concern of this novel, along with bouts of lust and sex that occur at the strangest times.

Follett's writing tends to be on the simplistic side, without much description or inner thinking. The grammer is simple too, not much above what would be found in a young adult novel, which makes for a fairly flat novel. Despite all of the action, and the flying sequences, there was very little that I could care about in this one, not withstanding the unusual setting and plot. The characters are either relentlessly treacherous and evil, or so good that you'd think they'd be bleeding pure sugar in spots. This doesn't make for a very intersting cast of characters, as I found myself lacking any sort of connection to the teenage characters, or even the sad tale of Peter and his wife, Inge. Poor Inge comes across as just a mannekin to show how despicable he is, and what a rotter. Even Hermia is flat and one-note throughout, and I was hoping that someone, somewhere in the book had an attack of nerves to give this some depth.

Coincidences are rampant throughout the book, and I kept finding my sense of belief getting stretched further and farther, until one of the ending sections of the book, where it all snapped and I laughed at the pure silliness. Not only has Harald fallen for the pretty Karen, she tells him that they can't flee Denmark until her ballet troupe has danced for the King the next night.

No kidding.

Which is a pity, as the story of the Danish resistance is actually very remarkable and shows how tough this little country gets when you get them backed into a corner. The author has done quite a bit of research on the background and subject matter, but it's dished up in such a ludicrous fashion that it's very hard to suspend belief and settle down to enjoy the story itself. Needless to say, it's going to be a while before I pick up one of Ken Follett's thrillers again, and I will continue to wonder why his books keep ending up on the best seller lists. I really can not fathom why.

Hornet Flight
Ken Follett
2002; Signet/Penguinbooks, USA
ISBN 0-451-21074-3


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