Ken Follett Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ken Follett writes exciting tales of espionage and adventure set in various locales and periods. Thoroughly researched, his novels mix historical fact and colorful protagonists to create intelligent—if not intellectual—entertainments. He also presents complex, believable characters whose personal lives are often as chaotic as their social and political milieus. He has consciously courted bestsellerdom by employing vivid heroines to appeal to female readers. Although his work resembles the tradition of Helen MacInnes and Alistair MacLean more than that of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, Follett’s novels are carefully crafted and generally well written in a deceptively simple style. Of all the espionage writers since the heyday of Ian Fleming, Follett writes perhaps the easiest plots to follow—without skimping on complexity and ambiguity of motive.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his many novels, Ken Follett (FAHL-iht) has written nonfiction, including On Wings of Eagles (1983), about American businessman Ross Perot’s 1979 rescue of two corporate executives imprisoned in Tehran, Iran; screenplays such as Fringe Banking (1978) and A Football Star (1979); and children’s stories such as The Secret of Kellerman’s Studio (1976) and The Power Twins and the Worm Puzzle: A Science Fantasy for Young People (1976).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Among the youngest millionaire authors, Ken Follett has created best sellers characterized by clear-cut prose with multiple subplots and characters. Set amid chaotic sociopolitical milieus, these works suggest the conflicts of an age or of a historical period through the plight of individuals, and depend on ordinary women rising to life’s challenges with strength, fortitude, and vision. Follett was not yet thirty years old when he wrote his novel The Eye of the Needle, an international success that sold more than ten million copies, was translated into twenty-five languages, won the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America (1979), and was made into a 1981 United Artists film of the same title starring Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland. Other film adaptations include two television miniseries (The Key to Rebecca in 1985 and On Wings of Eagles in 1986) as well as a 1997 television adaptation of The Third Twin (to which CBS purchased the rights for $1.4 million).

By 1989, Follett had more than ninety million readers worldwide. In 2003, as part of the British Broadcasting Corporation series The Big Read, the British public voted The Pillars of the Earth one of that nation’s one hundred best-loved novels. Follett received an honorary doctorate from Exeter University in 2008.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Follett, Ken. Interview. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December, 1978, 95-96. Brief but revealing interview published early in Follett’s writing career.

Freeman, Lucy, ed. The Murder Mystique: Crime Writers on Their Art. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. Includes a chapter in which Follett comments on his early fiction and the craft of writing. Provides useful insights into Follett’s early novels.

Ken Follett: A Reader’s Checklist and Reference Guide. Middletown, Conn.: CheckerBee, 1999. Paperback book containing brief plot summaries of all Follett’s fiction through 1999, along with a short biography of the author.

Ramet, Carlos. Ken Follett: The Transformation of a Writer. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1999. Mixture of biography and analysis of the novels, quite helpful.

Reilly, John M., ed. Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Brief but enlightening discussion of the plot formulas and characters that Follett successfully employs in his best-selling novels.

Turner, Richard C. Ken Follett: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Using a variety of critical approaches, Turner provides an indispensable analysis of all Follett’s major works. Includes a biography and a bibliography of Follett’s works and the secondary works about his fiction.