If it was for us to have a “must” list of new age’s literature, he would surely be there in the first five, with a huge exclamation mark near his name! For over three decades he brought us unbelievable stories, amazing characters and true lessons of history due to his books.
Ken Follett is a British writer. His books come in a classical drama-thriller style and he became famous thanks to his book The Eye of the Needle. This is a novel that brought him, except the world wide fame, a lot of prizes and became a bestseller. The novel was written when Follett was only 27 years old.
His Early Life
The British author was born on June 5, 1949, in Cardiff, United Kingdom and he is son of Martin and Veenie Follett. While he was 10 years old, he moves to London together with his family, where he also finishes the secondary classes. He has a special interest in reading even since childhood, but he’s not bright in school until becoming a teenager. Then, in 1967 he begins studying philosophy at University College London. It is also the period when he becomes centre-left political involved.
Becoming an Adult
Only one year later after his admission to University College London, Follett gets married to Mary and in the same year he becomes a father (his son was named Emanuele). He graduates two years later, but he continues studying with a post graduate course in journalism. He actually worked as a trainee reporter in his birth town. In 1973, Emanuele’s sister comes to world – Marie-Claire, while her father returns to London, working for the Evening News as a general reporter.
But working as a journalist is not satisfactory to Follett who decides to move to the small publisher in London Everest Books where he works as a deputy managing director. He finds a passion and a great way to relax in writing, doing it at evenings and in weekends. He actually declared that he started real writing because he needed money to fix his car. But at the moment when Eye of the Needle comes to life makes him rich and world wide famous, after 1978. And he was only 27 years old at that moment, but winning an Edgar award and selling the book in over 10 million copies, allows him to leave his job and rent a mansion in South of France in order to dedicate his entire energy to writing his new novel.
Before getting world wide fame, Follett wrote other two novels: The Mondigliani Scandal (1976) and Paper Money (1977).
Eye of the Needle (1978)
The book has a very complex plot and he tells the story of several characters, some real ones (Hitler, Goring, Rommel, Churchill), other fictional – professor Percival Godliman and inspector Frederick Bloggs. The leading “actor” is Heinrich Faber, who acts from behinds in the U.K. He is the needle because he kills people using a stiletto he always carries with him. He manages to play hundreds of roles and he has no vices. That is why he can’t be caught and even his existence is only suspected.
Die Nadel’s adventures aren’t the only ones that offer a great reading, but Follett managed to describe in a great way the war atmosphere in London with all the facts involved. The novel also inspired a same called film, where Donald Sutherland made a great role playing.
This is one of Follett’s best series! World wide known, picture in TV series, but also in board and video games, the Kingsbridge books are amazing! They have a very important historical narration and a lot of plots involving social crises, self development and love, all centered around the building of the biggest Gothic cathedral in the 12th century England.
In 1989, readers got a total surprise when Follett gave them the story of a cathedral’s building in the Middle Age: The Pillars of the Earth. This new book managed to sell in over 18 million copies until now and it was ranked in the New York best sellers list for more than 4 months. It came as a best seller also in Germany, Italy, Canada and Great Britain.
The Pillars of the Earth (1989) : One of his best stories, a beautiful turn back to the 12th century, in England, where people are willing to build the greatest Gothic cathedral of the world, bringing to life a fight between the good and the evil, during a civil war. This book has amazing, different plots involving family business, love stories, historical narration and a great action involving very good created characters.
World Without End (2007) : After Ken Follett amazed the literature world with The Pillars of Earth, an amazing novel with the action in the 12th Century England, critics were overwhelmed and readers kept hoping for a follow up. When this arrived, Follett told them another amazing story. Two centuries after the Kingsbridge people finished the building of their great cathedral, four children witness a murder spent in the middle of the forest, an event that will influence their adult lives. It’s a story about ambition, love and revenge
Other history stories
Follett’s passion for history was even more run in the next three novels he wrote: Night Over Water in 1991, A Dangerous Fortune in 1993 and A place Called Freedom in 1995. These three were very appreciated for the way history is narrated, more than for the thriller gender they were settled in.
Still, he returned to thriller in 1996, releasing The Third Twin, another great best seller. This book was ranked number 2 in the annual survey of international fiction best sellers managed by Publishing Trends, in 1997. It was beaten only by The Partner, written by famous John Grisham.
Suspense reached its best in the next novels published by Ken Follett: The Hammer of Eden (1998) and the thriller talking about the cold war launched in 2000, Code to Zero. He continued his work by returning to World War Two inspirational books with the novels: Jackdaws (2001) – a Corine Prize winner two years later and Hornet Flight (2002).
His next novel, Whiteout, released in 2004 comes to more actual themes and talks about a deadly virus that is stolen from a research laboratory.
Apples Carstairs series (as Simon Myles)
He actually published these books using a pseudonym – Simon Myles. These are three action-thriller books starring Apples Carstairs, a really special character who has the courage to mess up with all kind of situations, giving readers great action and a feeling that they are actually watching a movie through the pages of the book.
The Big Needle (1974) (a.k.a. The Big Apple – S.) The leading character of the story is Chad Carstairs who easily becomes successful but is later taken to misery: leaving the full of pleasures life in an elegant English property, to a living nightmare in London clubs. He wants to take revenge and he risks even his life in order to complete his plans.
The Big Black (1974) tells another story about corruption and blackmails, as a pornographic photo of Apples and his lovers show up. An avenger who tries to set up a lot of problems to Apples and some mystery through a whole net of intrigues from New York to Brussels. A follow up for The Big Needle, where Apples must make it till the 13th floor in order to meet and stop The Big Black, Joshua Hind.
The Big Hit (1975) It’s time for a successful musician’s story. He dies right after a phone call to the already famous Apples who starts investigating a world full of blackmail and corruption. In the last of Apples Carstairs stories we find out about Winston Divine, a star musician and his death, while Apples, who was his old friend tries to find out the reasons of his death and uncovers a corrupt world through the music business
Piers Roper series
This series only has two books. They picture as a leading character a great spy called Piers Roper. Starting as a cruel and brutal character, he ends up falling in love in the first piece and in the second book he has to face another challenges connected to his spy life.
The Shakeout (1975) The author himself says that it’s not one of his best, but it is easy to read and it pictures very well the 1970s way of life, clothing, smoking, etc. “Palmer” is leading the actions of Roper, an industrial spy, very brutal and abusive, yet very effective. Only Ann, a beautiful and smart woman messes up his plans when he totally falls in love.
The Bear Raid (1976) A vacation spy book, also from his early writings, better than the previous in the series, but still not one of his best. Piers Roper shows up again, this time on a Wall Street raid. This time his plans are messed up by a young executive, Clayton, his is accused of murder and he gets betrayed by beautiful Loise. Still, he manages to win the challenges.
The Century Trilogy
This series is another masterpiece signed by Ken Follett. It pictures the life of five different families from several countries during a hundred years. In the first part of the book, the characters live the drama of the First World War, the second part leads the readers through the Second World War, while the last one talks about new era’s unrests.
Fall of Giants(2010) Another amazing story about love, hate, war and revolutions follows the lives of five families passing through the dramas of World War I. In England of year 1911, love and hate unite two very different families: The Williams, simple miners from Wales and the Fitzherberts, the aristocrat owners of a charcoal mine. Proving a fascinating complexity, the Fall of Giants passes from Washington to Sankt Petersburg, from London to Berlin, from the dirt in the mine, to the charm of the castles.
Winter of the World(2012) The war made them warriors. The love made them heroes. A strong drama, a follow up of the Fall of Giants, picturing the same families facing important periods of history: The Third Reich, The Civil War in Spain, World War II, the experience of the atomic bombs.
Edge of Eternity (2014) is the follow up of the families’ saga. This is actually a conclusion novel, showing the families in one of the most hectic eras: the economic turmoil of the 60s till the 80s, discussing civil rights, mass political movements and even, rock and roll.
These are actually books written by Follett over the last three decades and here we have his early novels, captivating action-thrillers, spy books on very diverse themes and even children books.
Amok: King of Legend (1976) an early novel, fantasy, fictional, somehow horror story about Amok, a strange creature. Harry is the main character of the book, who sees a “tree” moving, but it’s not actually a tree, it is a huge covered with hair leg. It belongs to a strange creature with almost a human face who disappears together with Purity, the girl in the novel
The Modigliani Scandal (1976) (as Zachary Stone) Some sort of a modern Robin Hood story. The leading actors of this book are a London dealer, a gallery owner with financial problems and a crazy wife and an ambitious young historian from Paris. They all fight for power and richness.
The Mystery Hideout (1976) (as Martin Martinsen) (a.k.a. The Secret of Kellerman’s Studio) It’s his first novel dedicated to children, the great adventure story of two preteens. Mick and Izzie don’t get along from their first meeting, but when they meet again on the football field, they get to be partners. And they get into a lot of plots involving mystery.
The Power Twins (1976) (as Martin Martinsen) Fritz and Helen, the main characters become superheroes and they try to rescue the universe. It all starts normal, when Uncle Grigorian asks Fritz, Helen and Jonathon to spend some time with him at his farm, but they soon find a space capsule and they understand Uncle Grigorian is actually a messenger from outer space and the children are given super-powers.
Paper Money (1977) (as Zachary Stone) The perfect action thriller story for your vacation telling a story where crime, journalism and finances are connected. As a politician wakes up near a girl, a criminal hits his team. Then we find three different plot that seem to be not related at all until the reporters from the Evening Post start asking questions.
Capricorn One (1978) (as Bernard L. Ross) As expected, it’s about people leaving to space. A great adventure and action story starting with the first flight to Mars, when the life support fails so NASA plans a fraud of a total value of 30 billion dollars. When the space capsule burns on re-entry in the atmosphere, three astronauts manage to survive, but NASA wants them dead as soon as possible.
Eye of the Needle (1978) (a.k.a. Storm Island) (Edgar Award, 1979, Best Novel) Speech less, one of the best novels written in the past 50 years. The book has a very complex plot and tells the story of Heinrich Faber, who acts from behinds in the K. He is the needle, a spy who kills people using a stiletto he always carries with him. He manages to play hundreds of roles and he has no vices. That is why he can’t be caught and even his existence is only suspected.
Triple( 1979) Great spy novel about the Egyptians trying to build an atomic bomb, also involving the Mossad and KGB. There are three main characters, representing the interests of three states: Nat “The Pirate” from Israel, “Rostov”, Russian KGB’s agent and intelligent Yassif from Israel.
The Key to Rebecca (1980) Another amazing spy novel with the action somewhere in Cairo. The action takes place in 1942 in North America, where Rommel looks unbeatable thanks to his master spy Alex Wolff, but also to a deadly code hidden between the pages of Rebecca, a novel by du Maurier
The Man from St. Petersburg (1982) The story of Feliks who came to London to commit a murder that was about to change the course of history. The action starts in 1914, when Germany and the allies need Russia to win the battle.
On Wings of Eagles (1983) A mission only true heroes could face in Iran, to save two hostages. It is actually the true story of a Green Beret colonel who left the peace of his retirement to come back and lead a secret mission. The whole team is now back home, leaving normal lives.
Lie Down with Lions (1985) A passion and deception triangle between an American, a French and … the woman between them. It happens in the Afghan mountains where is also located the Valley of Five Lions, a legendary place.
Night Over Water (1991) The Pan American Clipper, a great story of action and adventure. In the flight, at the beginning of the war in 1939, a German scientist, an English aristocrat, a young wife trying to escape her husband, a murderer and thief meet.
A Dangerous Fortune (1993) The story about a collapse of a bank and an unscrupulous woman named Augusta. It is a breathtaking saga of love, power and revenge set at the end of the 1860s.
A Place Called Freedom (1995) The wonderful, idealistic story of a young miner who hopes and struggles for more. Mac McAsh is helped by Lizzie to escape as he was a slave. He gets wrongly sentenced to death. In the last second he is saved from hanging and he travels to America hoping to find freedom.
The Third Twin (1996) A very good researched techno-thriller, full of energy and action. A young scientist finds out that a law student and a convicted murderer look like they were identical twins although they were born in different days and have different mothers.
The Hammer of Eden (1998) Eco-terrorist extremists try to create a huge earthquake. It is supposed to take place in less than 2 days if the extremists’ requests aren’t accepted by the Governor of California.
Code to Zero (2000) Is the story of an amnesic who tries to put back together all the pieces of his life. When he starts to re-match the pieces of his memories’ puzzle he uncovers a lot of secrets about his wife, his best friend and a woman he loved a lot
Jackdaws (2001) A great spy novel, with lots of action and adventure, filled with unforgettable characters, authentic details and an amazing powerful storytelling.
Hornet Flight (2002) The story of an impossible flight during World War II. In June 1941, the war seems to belong to Hitler. But on a Danish Island, a young talented engineer discoveries a secret German installation. He tries to reach England in a very old airplane, but his dream looks more than impossible.
Whiteout (2004) The story of a missing deadly virus from a laboratory. As the main characters try to recover the dangerous canister, strange secrets are revealed and in the story hidden traitors and unexpected heroes show up
The Heist of the Century (1978) He actually says about this book that it was a nightmare he had to face just after writing Eye of the Needle, but before publishing it so he needed the money. It was actually a translation of a book about a spectacular bank robbery in Nice.
Ken Follett books weren’t only best sellers that readers all over the world highly appreciated, but some of them were also a source of inspiration for films and serials.
As we mentioned before, Eye of the Needle got into a great film, starring Donald Sutherland, as well as 6 of his novels also became mini-series, which were sold to CBS for the record amount of 1.4 million dollars. Even Follett acted in two of the movies picturing his novels The Third Twin and The Pillars of the Earth. He played the role of the valet in the first one and of a merchant in the second.
After the story … probably the best way to help you discover the best fit for you from Ken Follett’s novels, here’s a Bibliography list with a few words to describe each of the story’s plots.