Click here to read reviewer Dave Roy's take on Hornet Flight.
Ken Follett’s Hornet Flight catapults the reader back into the Second World War. The Germans are winning the war, and England stands alone against the threat of the Nazis. England’s last hope against the Germans is her airforce. Digby Hoare pays a visit to his wounded brother, Bart, who has been shot down while trying to bomb Germany – like dozens of other British pilots. Digby works as a troubleshooter for Prime Minister Winston Churchill, looking for Germany’s secret weapon code-named “Freya.” He is shocked by Bart’s observations: “When we get to Germany, they’re ready for us. They know we’re coming.” (p. 8)
What follows is a rollercoaster ride through Denmark on a quest for Germany’s new and improved tracking device called radar. This device gives the German airforce the capability to track British bombers. Digby’s desperate search for the truth about Germany’s secret weapon touches many people. Young Harald Olufsen, a Danish high school student, takes a shortcut on his way home one night. He finds a strange new dish-like machine on the German-occupied military base - “The whole contraption was rotating like a merry-go-round, completing a revolution every few seconds.” (p. 28) This discovery will change his life forever.
Harald Olufsen is drawn into a web of intrigue with his brother, Arne, a pilot in the Danish airforce. Arne’s fiancé, Hermia Mount, is leading the Danish resistance movement from MI6 headquarters in England. When Digby and Hermia meet, he convinces her to help him find the new German tracking device – “a machine for detecting approaching aircraft before they come within sight” (p. 40) . However, Peter Flemming, a policeman who was once Arne’s friend, is following their every move. Peter’s wife has been left totally disabled by a reckless driver, destroying Peter’s family, and Peter takes out his frustrations by becoming a tool of the Nazi occupiers and tracking Danish spies like Harald and Arne.
Harald’s quest takes him throughout occupied Denmark. Many Danish residents are collaborating with the Germans. Peter Flemming admires the German occupiers because he sees “Well-behaved people in smart uniforms getting things done, with no slacking, no lateness, no half-measures.” (p. 391) However, there is also a very strong resistance movement in Denmark represented by Harald and Arne. When Arne is killed trying to pass on information about the secret German weapon to the British, Harald must take his place. He finds shelter at the home of a Jewish school friend. Here he meets Karen. The two of them fall in love, and take a horrible risk by making the “Hornet Flight” across the Channel to England.
The novel’s hero, Harald, is far from perfect. He argues with his parents; he neglects his school work; he frequents jazz clubs. However, he is essentially a decent human being who wants to do the right thing for his family and his country. Through a fluke of fate, he becomes involved in one of the most critical spy operations of World War II: the discovery of the German invention of radar. His bravery and ingenuity play a critical role in changing the course of the war.
Ken Follett is at his very best when he is writing about the past. He weaves historical figures such as Winston Churchill and the King of Denmark into his novel along with ordinary citizens who are simply trying to survive in a time of fear and chaos. Recently, Follett has once again topped the bestseller lists with his newest novel World Without End, a sequel to his ever-popular Pillars of the Earth. Follett writes with vigor and excitement, but he is not afraid to raise controversial issues such as the treatment of the disabled, religious fundamentalism, and fanatical policing practices. Above all, Follett knows how to keep us on the edge of our seats with each and every page of Hornet Flight.