Like some other bestselling authors (namely John Grisham and Tom Clancy), Follett's last books flopped in the critics' and customers' reviews. "The third twin", "Code to zero" and "Hammer of eden" were thrashed from left and from right, and in my opinion deservedly so. Follett is a talented author, but in these three books it seems he chose subjects that didn't appeal to the general public. Besides, his style of wrtiting was different from the successful one that made books like "Pillars of the Earth" and "Eye of the needle" become most wanted among legions of Follett's fans. It looked like the author himself lost interest in his books, and his fans didn't take it lightly.
These facts may be true, and the proof is that Follett wrote two thrillers in sequence, less than one year apart, going back to the subject and the atmosphere he knows best: World War II. It seems his public liked the change. At least, the reviews are a lot kinder than before.
"Jackdaws" is the story of a group of women lead by secret agent Flick Clairet. Their mission is to parachute into occupied France, and blow-up a telephone exchange that will help provide the security the Allies need on D-day. OK. That's a good subject. The plot in "Jackdaws" is interesting and the pace is very fast. In fact, the very opening scene is a pistol shooting between the Gestapo and agents of the french Resistence. The chapters are all full of action, and Follett doesn't let the rhythm slow down. Yes, it seems he's back on track.
But there are some problems. I was left with the impression that, though the plot is interesting, it's somewhat thin, and Follett had to struggle hard to keep the reader's full-time attention. That's why there are so many cold-blooded murders, shootings, etc. One other problem is about the characters. Flick Clairet and the nazi torturer, Dieter Franck, are both cool (enemies at haeart), but also full of contradictions. Sometimes what they did and said was plainly wrong. And all other characters are shallow to the point of oblivion. Follett tried to spice things up: there's homosexualism, a transexual, one (almost hot) lesbian scene. But it didn't work out as well as he intended, because he concentrated to much of the book's focus on the two main characters.
I give "Jackdaws" 4 stars because, even if it's not Follett's best, it kept me up reading way after midnight. And also because Follett shows that he worries about his readers. It's like he's thinking: "OK, I tried to change subjects, but maybe I didn't do my homework so well. I'll go back to World War II, give my constant readers (as Stephen King would say) two good books on that subject, and then I'll do a better research on future stories that are not about WWII". Let's hope this is true.