An exciting war-time drama about female British agents sent to France during the Nazi occupation, charged with blowing up a crucial telephone exchange the Nazis have set up in a bomb-proof French chateau. The women must disguise themselves as cleaners to gain access to the chateau, and are recruited from all walks of life—the British aristocracy, criminals, even a transvestite—and for all sorts of reasons, with but one goal: to survive long enough to sabotage the exchange and facilitate the success of the Normandy invasion. The process of their recruitment is less than credible, and the behavior of these “agents” sometimes stretches the imagination, but they are colorful and appealing enough as individual personalities to help us embrace them.
Pitted against the group’s fearless leader Felicity Clairet is a cold-blooded German intelligence officer with a special “talent” for interrogation and a dogged determination to capture Felicity and, through her, the entire French resistance. He is an interesting character, a master torturer and psychological manipulator with less of an investment in a Nazi victory than in his own career. His relationship with his French mistress is an evolving one, which also reveals his vulnerabilities, making him an interesting and worthy counterpoint to Felicity.
Jackdaws is a great thriller with an exciting plot, a colorful and mostly believable cast of characters, enough romance thrown in to keep everyone happy, and a nail-biting climax sure to please the most jaded among us. If there is a bit of stereotyping of some of the Nazis (the sadistic torturer, for example), there is also a bit of stereotyping of British intelligence, but neither is so heavy-handed as to ruin a good story. Not great literature, but a good spy story and a fun ride.