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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Code to Zero by Ken Follett

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Last year I began collecting Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in the Audible format for my Kindle. I've seen all the film adaptations, so I figured it was time to look at the source material. And I'm "reading" (listening to) them in the order Fleming wrote them. I finished Moonraker last summer.

There is very little resemblance to the movie of the same title. Of course that can probably be said of most of the Bond movies--the most recent Casino Royale being one notable exception.

The reason I mention Fleming's Moonraker is because Code to Zero has a very similar milleu and nearly identical subject matter. And I hate to admit this, but I enjoyed Follett's novel more.

The book takes off from a familiar lunching pad: Our protagonist, "Luke" (Dr. Claude Lucas, we later find out), awakens one morning with no knowledge of who he is, where he came from or what he's doing in a restroom in Union Station dressed like a bum. His story begins as a quest to find out who he is, but develops into much more, taking us into the post-Sputnik space race, Cold War espionage, murder, betrayal, intrigue, and draconian brain-tampering.

It's been a while since anything spewed out by traditional publishing has grabbed me so effectively as this book did. I actually got angry when distracted or I had to put it down to deal with work, family, etc. I found it that good. Follett's use of flashbacks was deft, if not masterful. And by that I don't mean they were all part of some gimmick or contrivance to trick the reader. He used them to develop the characters, and it worked well. I cared about Luke and Billie because of those.

There were surprises, to be sure. And though Follett's view of history has been colored by revisionism (as has most everyone's educated in government schools), there was no huge political sucker-punch waiting for me at the climax. Quite the opposite.

There are flaws. The most bothersome to me are the conventional plot devices which depend on the hero's gullibility. But those are few and mostly plowed to the end of the plot line.

This Cold-War thriller gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me.

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