The Big Needle is Ken Follett’s first published novel – as by “Symon Myles” in 1974 – and what it lacks in complexity and subtlety is readily overcome with its streamlined, almost men’s adventure-like, plotting and enthusiasm.
Apples Carstairs is a wealthy London real estate investor. He is divorced with a seldom seen teenage daughter, Jane, and two live-in lovers he enjoys as something more than wanton distraction. Apples’ world shudders when his ex-wife arrives at his doorstep with dark news: “Jane is in hospital in a coma.” Jane’s coma is the result of a heroin overdose. Apples is stunned with guilt for ignoring his daughter for so many years and then anger toward the heroin pushers. In an instant, Apples decides to destroy the man responsible for importing heroin into London. Not the street pusher, or distributor, but rather the top-level executive of the enterprise. A man he calls, “Mr. H”. His mission leads him from the underworld of London to the streets of Marseilles and back.
The Big Needle is more action than crime novel. It is plotted from car chase to shoot out to sex scene, of which there are many, and back again. The criminal element – identifying and destroying London’s heroin syndicate – is less mystery and more obstacle to both Apples and the reader. And Apples uses a methodical, if unbelievable, approach to accomplishing his mission. Unbelievable, because of Apples’ easy access to the crime syndicate in England and its French supplier, which is forgivable because of the novel’s quick, linear plot and lean prose. It doesn’t hurt that there is a subtle tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole enterprise.