Ken Follett’s Classic ‘The Key to Rebecca’ Remains One of the Best Espionage Books Ever Written [REVIEW]

WWII Egypt

In the midst of World War II, a Nazi spy plots the downfall of the British in Egypt in Ken Follett’s classic thriller, The Key to Rebecca. (Photo by Tom Beazley/courtesy aussiejeff, Flickr)

Although we primarily feature new fiction on our site, every now and again we like to revisit a classic. Pulling an oldie but a goodie off the shelf and dusting it off to re-read it is akin to having brunch with an old friend to reminisce about cherished memories. And sometimes we simply feel like digging into a favorite author’s past works, ones me may have missed the first time around. That is what happened with Ken Follett’s classic, The Key to Rebecca. 



Originally published 38 years ago, Follett’s World War II espionage novel, The Key to Rebecca, is still as compelling as it was way back in 1980. Set in 1942 Egypt when Rommel seemed undefeatable, the story begins as the Nazi’s master spy, Alex Wolff, crosses the blazing hot Sahara to enter Cairo unnoticed, determined to steal British military plans and radio them back to headquarters using a secret code contained within the pages of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel, Rebecca. 

Almost from the moment he enters Egypt, the Brit’s Major Vandam is on Wolff’s heals, eager to catch the spy who eludes him at every turn. As Rommel’s troops draw closer to victory, Vandam relies on a beautiful woman named Elene Fontana to win Wolff’s trust and lure the spy into the open. But will they be able to accomplish their mission in time, or will the Third Reich finally defeat the British on Egyptian soil? This story keeps readers guessing until the final nailbiting showdown between Wolff and Vandam.

Like many of Follett’s books, including his meaty bestsellers The Pillars of the Earth and A Place Called FreedomThe Key to Rebecca is rich with captivating historical detail that only adds to the flavor of the book and leaves readers with a better understanding about what World War II was like in the heat of North Africa. The book is also populated with a colorful cast of characters that are simultaneously authentic, arresting, and majorly flawed. Readers are sure to find themselves both fascinated and repelled by enigmatic characters like Sonja, a famous belly dancer with unusual appetites; and Abdullah, a gleefully irreverent and unreliable thief.

The book is filled with so many thrills, it is oddly reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies and those dime store adventure novels from the 1950s, at least in the way that it is fun to read and swarming with twists and turns aplenty. If you like to learn something while you are entertained, then you won’t want to miss Follett’s classic spy thriller tour de force, The Key to Rebecca. It will have you burning the midnight oil as you stay up late turning pages into the wee hours of the morning until you find out just who wins this epic showdown.


Ken Follett

Ken Follett

Ken Follett is one of the world’s best-selling novelists. He burst onto the literary scene in 1978 with the Edgar Award-winning Eye of the Needle, and quickly followed that with four more pulse-pounding thrillers: TripleThe Key to RebeccaThe Man from St. Petersburg, and Lie Down with Lions. 

He also wrote the non-fiction book, On Wings of Eagles, the true story of how two of Ross Perot’s employees were rescued from Iran during the revolution of 1979.

In 1989, his epic masterpiece about the building of a cathedral during the Middle Ages, The Pillars of the Earth, was published to critical acclaim and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 18 weeks. In November 2007, it wound up at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists again when it was featured in the Oprah Winfrey Book Club.

More historical novels followed, including Night Over WaterA Dangerous Fortune, and A Place Called Freedom. Most recently, he returned to Kingsbridge, the fictional location of the cathedral in Pillars with his follow-up novels, World Without End and his latest novel, A Column of Fire.

By Ken Follett
352 pgs. Penguin Books. $16

This book was also adapted as a miniseries starring Cliff Robertson and David Soul in 1985. Watch it below!

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: