This was the first book I ever read by Christopher Hyde and it's still one of my favorites, even though the horror envisioned by Hyde in the 1980's has been far overshadowed by the reality of the 21st century.
Years before he start making a living producing comfortable espionage thrillers, Hyde produced quirky novels about botched train robberies and giant waves washing entire cities away. He wandered the Stephen King trail with an End-of-the-World plague and this, Crestwood Heights, a techno-paranoia novel par excellence.
Kelly Rhine inherits her uncle's home in the new town of Crestwood Heights, situated in rural North Carolina, where the future is now, Big Brother is watching and boy, is he pissed. Kelly isn't in town two days before she manages to upset one of the local bigwigs and strange things start happening to her. While investigating, she uncovers a vast conspiracy of scientific evil. I can't really say more than that or I'd give the whole thing away.
Hyde has a talent for creating a few believable characters amid his cliche stock, some never seen before in pulp fiction. Robin Spenser, for example, a gay ex-marine who runs a local bakery called Aunt Bea's. Robin is gentle, heroic, strong and competent; in short, he is nothing like any gay character you'd have found in any other thriller in the 80's. Place him next to Philip Granger, the hotheaded leader of the local beautification society and Max Alexanian, the glittering, cold-hearted leader of the Cold Mountain Institute, and Robin is a towering example of originality.
Kelly herself, ostensibly the main character, is little more than a catalyst, bringing very little to the table that a paragraph of exposition might have. Throughout the novel she allows things to happen to her, rather than effecting the changes herself. Still, her gullibility moves the story forward.
This review is being written in the middle of 2004, when I have a card for every grocery store that offers me discounts in exchange for detailed reports about my shopping habits. Just a week ago I was late for work because all the traffic in my town was stopped dead due to protesters fighting against bioengineered food. We are actively working on cloning humans and harvesting stem cells. Against my reality, the spooky paranoia evoked by Hyde rarely elicits a blip of concern. But in 1988, when first read the book, I was shocked, horrified and fascinated.