Code To Zero Hardcover – Dec 7 2000
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Veteran thriller writer Ken Follett (Eye of the Needle, The Third Twin, The Key to Rebecca) turns in another nifty story of espionage, deceit, and betrayal, a fast-paced read with "bestseller" written all over it. A man wakes up in a Washington, D.C., train station in 1958, shortly before the launch of Explorer I, America's first space satellite, with no idea who he is or how he got there. And in less than a few hours, it's clear that someone doesn't want him to find out. He's dressed like a bum, and he looks like he's been on a bender. But he's remarkably skillful at evading pursuit, obscuring his tracks, stealing a car, and breaking into a house. He's not sure how he came by those talents, and it worries him:
"I wonder if I'm honest?" Maybe it was foolish, he thought, to pour out his heart to a whore on the street, but he had no one else. "Am I a loyal husband and a loving father and a reliable workmate? Or am I some kind of gangster? I hate not knowing."But he does, and it's that firm interior moral compass that keeps him on track through the novel's most fascinating pages as he solves the puzzle of who he really is: Claude "Luke" Lucas, a renowned rocket scientist who was en route from Cape Canaveral to Washington to warn someone in the Pentagon about something he also can't remember, even with the help of some of his oldest friends. Like Anthony Carroll, a CIA agent who apparently has proof that Luke's been sabotaging the fledgling American space program and working for the Russians. And Billie Josephson, the woman Luke once loved, who happens to be an expert in brainwashing and memory loss. And Elspeth, Luke's mathematician wife, who'll do almost anything to save his life.
"Honey, if that's what's bothering you, I know what kind of guy you are already. A gangster would be thinking, am I rich, do I slay the broads, are people scared of me?"
That was a point. Luke nodded. But he was not satisfied. "It's one thing to want to be a good person--but maybe I don't live up to what I believe in."
This is one of Follett's strongest books in years. The flashbacks bring the story of the idealistic young collegians from World War II into 1958, nicely setting up the action in an exciting, solidly plotted, and suspenseful read that grabs the reader by the throat in the first paragraph and doesn't let up until the last. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
After dabbling in his last few books in historical sagas and various thriller subgenres, Follett returns to his espionage roots with this absorbing, tightly plotted Cold War tale about skullduggery in the early days of the space race. Set in 1958 shortly after the Soviets beat the Americans into orbit, the story tracks the frantic movements of Dr. Claude Lucas, who wakes up one morning in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, dressed as a bum. A victim of amnesia, he has no recollection that he is a key player in the upcoming launch of Explorer 1, the army's latest attempt to get a rocket into space. While Lucas slowly unravels the clues to his identity, the CIA follows its own agenda. The agency, led by Lucas's old Harvard buddy Anthony Carroll, has its own murky reasons for wanting Lucas to remain amnesic, and will kill him if he tries to interfere with the launch. Follett (The Hammer of Eden) does a wonderful job of keeping readers guessing about Lucas; is he a spy trying to foil the launch, as the CIA apparently believes? From the nation's capital to Alabama and Cape Canaveral, Lucas manages to stay one step ahead of his pursuers, steadily learning more about his memory loss, his wife, Elspeth, and his college friends Carroll, Billie Josephson and Bern Rothsten. Suspense junkies won't be disappointed by Follett's man-on-the-run framework; tension courses through the book from start to finish. Yet where the story shines is in the chemistry between Lucas and the four other major characters. As told through a series of well-chosen flashbacks, all the old college chums are now working or have worked as spies. The dilemma, skillfully posed by Follett, is figuring out who's friend and who's foe. (Dec. 4) Forecast: In his first hardcover for Dutton, Follett is wise to return to his forte of espionage thriller, and to base this novel on a real event, the unexplained delay of the 1958 Explorer 1 launch. Given the promotional hooplaDwhich includes a 425,000 first printing and $400,000 ad/promoDplus first serial to Reader's Digest; status as a BOMC, Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selection; simultaneous audios from Penguin Audio; and the sale of movie rights to Columbia Pictures, this book has a good chance of dancing with the charts.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The momentum builds in the first half but peters-out in the later half, like a roller coaster that almost reaches the pinnacle, but lacks the umph and falls a few feet short of the critical hump. Thus, predictably, this story, like the roller coaster, slides backwards the last part of the novel. The last half is predictable and a bit unsatisfying. If you are a Ken Follett fan then you may find "Code to Zero" lacking the violence, intrigue and exotic passion (zero zing) that most of Follet's spy thrillers have had (Key to Rebecca - Eye of the Needle - Lie down with Lions). That said, though this was not a one night, "burn the midnight oil" read, it was a story that I wanted to finish in two nights. "Code to Zero" is worth the purchase. Recommended.
The only positive thing I can say about the story is that it is the standard Follett formula. Not quit the stature of "Eye of the needle" but better than the Follett wantobes . This is more like a Colombo episode in which we know the answer long before the characters and read to see how long it takes them to catch up with us. There are a few surprising details that pop up at the last minute. Do not look too close at real life dates and technology as many things do not match; however they do not distract from the story.
Mainly there are three elements that are intertwined through the story. One is the present (1958) where Luke has to figure out who he is and what he is doing on an urgent time schedule. The second is a detailed layman's description of how the first rockets were designed in 1958. The third is a story of a group that met in Harvard just before Pearl Harbor and went through the equivalent of the OSS together and where they ended up to the present day.
Try to find a copy of George Guidall's unabridged recorded reading as it adds a good dimension to the story and will keep you hooked to the end. I used up some predacious gasoline listing to this in the parking lot.
Once you start the story you will have to finish it. Then you may wish it did not finish so soon.
Most recent customer reviews
Just finished reading this after reading 16 other Ken Follett novels in the past year. I am a great fan, especially of his larger novels (POTE, WWE, FOG, WOW)and have looked... Read morePublished on Dec 10 2013 by Gary F. Dunn
He wakes up in the men's room at Union Station. He can not remember who he is or how he got there. One shocking look in the mirror tells him he is a bum however he can not believe... Read morePublished on July 16 2006 by Bernie
There's one great strength of Follett's that some reviewers here don't mention. How do you get any better than with this opening line: "He woke up scared? Read morePublished on July 3 2004 by Bonnie Toews
Wow. I couldn't put this book down. When I read books like this, not only do I recall why I love to read, but I also remember why Follett's one of my favorite authors. Read morePublished on May 19 2004 by Matthew Schiariti
I found this book to be an enjoyable read. I have become a Ken Follett fan recently after reading Jackdaws and Pillars of the Earth. Read morePublished on April 22 2004 by Amazon Customer
This is, frankly, a terrible book. It's made more so by the fact that Follett has written great books before (Pillars of the Earth, for instance)... Read morePublished on Feb. 4 2004
Not worth the paper it is printed on
One of the worst books I have ever read...and I read a lot. Read more