The much-heralded ITW project THRILLERS: 100 MUST-READS is scheduled to be published by Oceanview this July during ThrillerFest. To whet your appetite for this essential book, we’re going to feature a series of short interviews with various essayists in upcoming issues. This interview by Hank Wagner, co-editor of the collection, is with Tess Gerritsen, who contributed a fabulous essay on Ken Follet’s masterpiece, Eye of the Needle.
Tess, you wrote about Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle. Was it your first choice to write about? If so,why? Does it fulfill your personal definition of a “must read”?
Yes, it was absolutely my first choice because I remembered it so fondly. It was my first experience with “faction” — a novel with a basis in real history. And yes, it certainly fulfills my definition of a “must read.” It had unforgettable characters, a riveting premise, and fascinating historical detail.
If you were re-reading the novel, how long ago did you first read it?
I think it was around 1981 or so, when I came across a copy left by the previous tenants of a house I was renting in Micronesia. I was working as a doctor then, with scarcely any time to read, but this book just sucked me in.
About how old were you when you read it?
Ouch. This is revealing my age, but I was 27.
What immediate impact did that first reading have on you?
For a while, it got me hooked on any and all WWII thrillers. I went on to read Follett’s The Key to Rebecca, and loved it as well.
What influence did the book have on your career or your writing?
It taught me that the best fictional heroes are people who seem utterly ordinary, but who go on to perform extraordinarily heroic feats. The character of Lucy, unhappily married, her life seemingly over, manages to defeat a ruthless killer. She made me believe that I too could be a hero.
What was it like re-reading the book? Was it as good as you remembered?
Reading it the first time, my hands were sweaty with tension. Reading it now, as an established writer, I was more aware of the author’s technique, and how he layers in character and suspense. So my hands didn’t sweat the second time, but my awe of Follett’s storytelling skills hasn’t faded one whit.
Did the novel age well?
Because it’s written as a WWII period piece, with characters and language of that era, it’s an ageless novel. In a century, you could go back and read this book and it will still be a classic.
Were you able to step back and read it like a reader, rather than a professional writer?
If I hadn’t been re-reading it specifically for this essay, I would have been able to fall right into the novel as a breathless reader. But the assignment made me approach it as a student.
Given that you had a word limit for your essay, is there anything you’d like to say about the book that you didn’t get to say in the essay?
Only this: Thank you, Ken Follett. I wasn’t yet a writer when I first read Eye of the Needle. But you helped me become one.
To see what Tess had to say about Eye of the Needle, be sure to pick up a copy of THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS when it debuts in July during ThrillerFest. One hundred of your colleagues writing about one hundred classic thrillers make this book “must” reading.