Egypt, WWII. Erwin Rommel is leading German troops, victory after victory over British forces. He has much to thank to a German-Arab named Alex Wolff; code-name Sphinx, Wolff is a German spy who is lifting secrets fresh from British intelligence headquarters in Cairo. Associated with Wolff is Cairo’s most famous belly dancer, Sonja, with whom he is having a steamy affair.
Hot on Wolff’s tail is Major William Vandam, the man in charge of safeguarding British intelligence. Vandam is not only after Wolff, but after the secret code he uses to encode his messages. It’s known that Wolff uses Rebecca, Daphne De Maurier’s novel in English, as his code. Now Vandam needs the key. Only a young, seductive Egyptian Jew will have an excuse to access the radio, the code and the key, but will she be able to get them on time before Germans march triumphantly over Cairo…?
I liked The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett. While it’s not on the same level as Eye of The Needle, it’s definitely much more accomplished and entertaining than The Man from St. Petersburg. It’s pulse-pounding adrenaline almost from beginning to end.
The Key to Rebecca opens up sort of dream-like: Wolff walking through the desert after losing his last camel. With several pounds of baggage on him and hardly any water, he passes out just before he “believes” he has arrived at the oasis he’s been looking for… It’s not exactly starting a novel with a bang, but just before the first chapter is over, Wolff is forced to kill a British officer and the chase starts.
Aside from the incessant hunt and the elusive nature of this lethal spy, are low passions threatening to consume Wolff and his lover Sonja. Together they form the kinkiest couple I’ve ever read about, and unfortunately their sexual exploits take center stage in the novel for they’re key not only to understand the nature of these two characters, but their lust is used to get secrets from others, and ultimately is what precipitates their fall.
Along the way, we get to know real-life figures such as Erwin Rommel and Anwar el-Sadat. The background story is fertile ground to understand what drives these historical figures: for Rommel is German nationalism, for el-Sadat is Egyptian nationalism, but both have the same objective of defeating the British and forcing them out of Egypt.
In summary, The Key to Rebecca is a very entertaining spy thriller with enough historical background to teach a little about WWII along the way.