The Little Drummer Girl – Plot Summary

I read this book recently and found the plot infuriately difficult to follow. I looked for a synopsis online, but was unable to find one. I therefore decided to write my own, based on carefully re-reading certain sections of the book. Note, this is filled with spoilers. Only read as far as you need to clarify your understanding of the plot. The book is well worth finishing. The finale is particularly gripping.

A bomb explodes in the suburb of Bad Godesberg in Bonn, Germany,  killing, amongst others, the child of a Israeli diplomat, who lived in the house in which the intended victim was due to stay. The diplomat survives and is able to provide information around how the bomb was planted. A suitcase was delivered to the house by a young woman, who claimed to be a friend of the diplomat’s au pair.

German police, led by Dr. Alexis, are surreptiously joined in their investigation by members of a secret unit of the Israeli security services, led by Marty Kurtz.

Through information obtained from Alexis, Kurtz believes that the bombing, and others like it, have been carried out by a terrorist cell led by a specific and highly skilled Palestinian, whose whereabouts are unknown to the Israelis. The terrorist is one of 4 brothers, 2 of whom have already been killed by the Israelis. The 4th, the youngest, is known to be in Europe. Kurtz believes that that the key to capturing the leader of the terror cell is to draw him out through his younger, less experienced brother. Kurtz mounts an operation to find the brother. He is found in Munich by a team of Kurtz’s operatives, tracked and abducted by the Israelis in Turkey en route to the Middle East.

The plot now switches to its central character, Charlie Ross, a female english actor who has previously dabbled in radical political causes. Along with a group of other actors, she is found on the Greek island of Mykonos, where the group has been asked to perform for the season by an unknown promoter (the promoter is later revealed to be the Israeli Secret Service, led by Kurtz, who need Charlie to be in Greece as part of their plan).

Charlie notices a particular man during her stay on the island. She sees him on the beach and in the local shops. She notices him because she thinks she recalls him being in the audience at several of her more recent performances back in England. She isn’t sure, but each time she sees him, she becomes more and more sure that it is the same man.

The strange man gradually works his way into the company of the Charlie’s group. His name is Joseph (his real name is Gadi Becker). He seeks out Charlie’s friendship and gains her confidence. While she retains concerns about his identity, which she does not confide to the rest of the group, she is also entranced by him. The season is ending and Joseph proposes that they travel together to visit the Greek antiquities. He instructs her on what to tell the rest of the group in order that they do not know her plans. She is still unsure, but agrees.

Around this point, the plot switches back to Kurtz, who has posed, with his assistant, Litvak, as a film producer to Charlie’s agent in London, Ned Quilley.  Kurtz understands that Quilley is in possession of detailed information regarding Charlie involvement in political causes, mainly from press clippings that Quilley’s office has collected. Kurtz convinces Quilley to allow him review the material. It later transpires that Kurtz steals the material.

Back in Greece, Charlie breaks from the rest of the group as they return to the mainland and meets Joseph as planned. Joseph brings Charlie to a view some Greek monuments later that evening. At first, everything seems to be happening as she had anticipated. She finds herself becoming more and more infatuated with Joseph.

But Joseph now changes. He becomes more distant. He drives her to remote house, refusing to engage with her questions. Members of the Israeli Secret Service unit of which Joseph is part, including Kurtz and his assistant, Litvak, are at the house. Charlie is briefly incarcerated before being brought to meet Kurtz.

Kurtz’s purpose is two-fold. He wishes to explain his purpose to Charlie and to interrogate to find out if she is the right person for the scheme he has hatched to capture his Palestinian prey.

Over the course of the interrogation, in which he uses the information stolen from Quilley, he determines that Charlie is the right person, and convinces her to join their scheme, promising her it will be the role of a lifetime as a actor and financial security when she completes the task.

The detail of  Kurtz’s plan are gradually revealed. The Israelis wish to create the impression that Charlie and the younger brother have fallen in love. His name is revealed as Michel. If the rest of the terrorist cell, and its leader, can be convinced this is true, and that Michel has joined Charlie to their cause, they anticipate that the leader will seek her out and use her in another attack, given that he has used young European women in his previous attacks. If this can be engineered by the Israelis they believe that Charlie can lead them to him.

Kurtz promises her that she can walk away whenever she wants. Joseph will also be a lead player in the scheme, and although she is angry with him, this seems to sway her. The Israelis are very aware of how elusive the leader is, and the extreme precautions he takes regarding his security. If he is to believe that his younger brother has had a relationship with Charlie, and that she is convinced of their cause, they must ensure that every detail of her story holds up.

To be certain this is the case, Joseph will act as Michel, travelling with Charlie through Greece, acting as both Michel and Joseph as required. Joseph and Charlie depart from the house and spend their first night together. Joseph takes great care to educate Charlie in every detail of her relationship with Michel.

The plot now re-introduces Michel. He is held captive by the Israelis, and through a series of ruses, they manage to get him to reveal significant information about his past, his family and his activities. The Israelis also forge several letters to and from him, which provides even more information. This is all part of the scheme to convince the cell that is relationship with Charlie is real. It later transpires that Michel also reveals a plan to transport a car full of explosives from Turkey into Germany via Austria. This was the purpose of the trip on which he was abducted.

Joseph and Charlie continue their journey through Greece. He recounts to her how their relationship developed (which is why he was in the audience at her performances in England), including the revelation that he is a member of a Palestinian terror cell. The relationship becomes more intense. He tells her of his family, and his brother Khalil, and his admiration for him. He shows her his gun, and asks her to venerate it.

Finally, as per the plan revealed by Michel during his interrogation, he asks her if she will drive a car full of explosives, the same car that Michel was driving when he was abducted in Turkey, from Greece to Austria. The explosives are real. Charlie is unsure, but Joseph, acting as Michel, convinces her. Charlie is becoming confused about whether or not her infatuation is for Joseph or Michel. She drives the car as required and leaves it at the train station in a small Austrian village, where it is collected by members of the cell. The collection is observed by the Israelis, who are now able to identify the members of the cell who scouted the location and made the collection. This confirms to them that the plan is working. Charlie is re-united with Joseph. Joseph continues to play the part of Michel, instructing Charlie in the detail of their relationship.

Thus far, everything is going to plan in Kurtz’s scheme. The next part of the plot is particularly intricate. It has always been Kurtz’s intention to kill Michel. Michel is the only person who can deny that the relationship with Charlie existed, so he must be removed. However, the manner of his death must be known to the rest of the cell, so that it fits with Charlie having driven the car from Greece to Austria.

Kurtz meets with Dr. Alexis, who has been demoted from his former duties. Anticipating that Alexis will seize an opportunity to regain his reputation, Kurtz offers him information about the original Bad Godesberg bombing, which Kurtz obtained during the interrogation of Michel. He does this to convince Alexis of the quality of his information. He then tells Alexis about the explosives that are due to arrive from Austria. Kurtz relays this information to his superiors. Kurtz’s intent here is to ensure that the detail of Michel’s death are known.

Before Michel is killed, Charlie must see him. Charlie is brought to where Michel is held captive. He is paraded before her, naked, to ensure she knows the features of his body. Michel’s health is not good at this point. The experience disturbs Charlie. She feels more and more attached to Michel, as if he were a real lover. She now returns to England to await contact from the terrorist cell. Charlie does not know that Michel will soon be executed.

Kurtz now progresses with the next step of the plan and arranges Michel’s death. Michel and the girl who collected the explosives in Austria and placed in the car that contains the explosives. The car is driven along the motorway in Germany and the explosives detonated remotely by the Israelis. The event is presented as an accident in which explosives been transported by 2 terrorists detonate prematurely. One of the terrorists is known to be Michel, which is corroborated by the information passed by Alexis. The link is now established between Charlie and Michel. She must have been his lover if she had assisted in such a dangerous mission.

The Israelis anticipate that the cell will now make contact with Charlie. They know that she was Michel’s lover and that she helped bring the explosives to Germany. They must therefore be convinced that she supports their cause, and given their need for European women to stage their bomb attacks, it is logical they will seek her out to recruit her into the cell.

Contact is eventually made by a man and woman. The woman is Helga, who will become Charlie’s handler as she is inducted into the cell. Charlie is being shadowed by members of Kurtz’s team during her contacts with Helga, who now know the identities of several members of the cell. They instruct her in how she should act and what she should say. Charlie’s infatuation with Michel becomes more real and intense. When she learns of Michel’s death from Helga, she is deeply moved. It becomes less clear if Charlie is still part of the scheme of if she is actually beginning to sympathise with members of the cell.

Helga is uncertain about Charlie’s bona fides, but becomes gradually convinced, in no small part due to the obvious intensity of Charlie’s feeling for Michel. She has also seen letters sent between Michel and Charlie, all of which were forged by the Israelis. Helga arranges for Charlie to be transferred to Lebanon, where she will be trained as a cell member. Before Charlie leaves, she spends the night with Joseph, during which he finally submits to his feelings for her.

In Lebanon, Charlie’s meets with friends and family of Khalil and Michel. She is installed in a refugee camp and taught about firearms and explosives. Her sympathies now seem to firmly lie with the Palestinians. She passes a number of tests to establish her loyalty and resolve.

Meanwhile, by shadowing the members of the cell that are now known to them, Kurtz and his team have determined that the next attack will be in Freiberg in Germany, on a visiting Israeli academic, Dr. Minkel, who is due to give a lecture. They also establish that the cell intend to use Charlie to deliver the bomb.

Charlie is recalled to Europe to take part in the attack. She is re-united with Helga, who briefs her on the mission. Helga informs Charlie’s that she will meet Khalil to collect the bomb (it later transpires that Khalil insists on making each bomb himself). Some of the Israelis are concerned that Charlie has been turned. Joseph assures them that this is not the case.

On the night of the attack, she meets Khalil in a remote hotel. They talk while he prepares the bomb. He tests her on her relationship with Michel and he appears convinced. Charlie brings the bomb to the hall where the lecture will take place. The bomb is in a briefcase that has apparently been mislaid by Dr. Minkel. Charlie engineers its return to him. When she reaches the room where Dr. Minkel is preparing for his lecture, she finds the Israeli Secret Service team, including Kurtz and Joseph, waiting for her. The take the bomb from her and make it safe. Joseph insists she enacts the entire scene as planned. As she leaves, he gives her a homing device, knowing that she will be returned to Khalil, who will now trust her implicitly.

After she has left, the Israelis carry out a controlled detonation of the bomb.. News reports are issued to say that Dr. Minkel has been killed in the attack (he hasn’t, however).

Charlie is returned to Khalil, who congratulates her and now appears more at ease in her company. They spend the night together and make love. In the morning, Khalil becomes suspicious that there is no agricultural activity in the fields around the house where they are staying. He becomes more suspicious when she tries to reassure him. He becomes aware of the homing device and switches it off. Charlie’s admits her duplicity, but before Khalil can do anything, Joseph, who was alerted when the homing beacon stopped, bursts through the door and shoots Khalil dead.

Over the next few weeks, the Israelis close off the loose ends that may have betrayed their plan. Charlie suffers a nervous breakdown and receives treatment. She is eventually reunited with Joseph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *