Hornet Flight

Ken Follett has long been a master of the historical spy thriller. With Hornet Flight, he returns to World War II, and while he often has amateurs caught up in his espionage plots, for the first time he focuses on teenagers, the schoolboy science whiz Harald Olufsen and ballet-student Karen Duchwitz.

The British are losing huge numbers of planes during its bombing raids over Germany. It is almost as if the Germans can detect exactly where the planes are. Winston Churchill asks his aide Digby Hoar to find out how this is happening, and Digby enlists Hermia Mount, who is engaged to Harald’s pilot brother, Arne, and has established a spy network in Denmark. Attempting to foil their efforts is Peter Flemming, a Copenhagen police detective whose father has a long-running feud with Arne and Harald’s pompous pastor father.

Harald accidentally stumbles into the Nazis’ enormous radar station on his native island of Sande. Circumstances lead to his being the only person who can return to the station, photograph it for the Allies, and get the negatives to England. The big question is how he will achieve this goal. Will the tiny Hornet Mouth airplane mothballed on the Duchwitz estate come into play? Will Karen’s pilot training be called upon?

Among Follett’s many thrillers, World War II adventures such as The Eye of the Needle (1978), The Key to Rebecca (1980), and Jackdaws (2001) stand out. Hornet Flight is perhaps the weakest of these in part because too much of Harald and Karen’s actions recall Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, with too many coincidences and strained contrivances. Follett specializes in strong female characters, and Hermia has the potential to be one of the best but is secondary to much of the crucial action. Nevertheless, individual elements, such as the flight of the title, are excitingly staged.