Michael Havens's Reviews > Code to Zero

Code to Zero by Ken Follett
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jun 22, 2009

liked it
Recommended for: Suspence/Cold War fans
Read in June, 2009

I have to admit to some repetition on this review. It seems that the same types of issues I had with Steven Gould’s ‘Blind Waves’ I also have with Ken Follett’s ‘Code to Zero’, but maybe even more so with my compasrisons with this novel and Hollywood’s attempt at packing everything in the course of a one and a half hour movie or a sixty minute television show. I find this hard to say about a Follett novel because his ‘Jackdaws’ was a very good effort on his part.
Well, let’s get to the introduction part! May I introduce to you to Luke Lucas, an unfortunate gentleman who has lost his memory. Amnisia has taken hold of him as he makes an arrempt to find people around him that might have an association with him. This leads him to his friend, Anthony Carroll, a CIA agent, and unbeknownst to Luke, a former commrade in the OSS during the war. You see, Mr. Luke here knows one thing about the first American satellite, Explorer I and a possible danger to its success. We are in the sixties and the Cold War influenced space-race is about to kick it into full gear. And Mr. Carroll has a few suprises to pack into hapless Luke’s brain, he seems to have evidence that accuses Mr. Lucas of treason.
I won’t get into the heart of that. I’ll let you figure it out as you read the book. But you see my friend, there is a small cast of chatacters, from Elseph, his wife, though he might want not to be, to Billie, a scientist and former member of the OSS who shoud have been his wife, to Bern, a former sympathist for the Soviet Union after the war. They are all going to help jog Luke’s brain while Anthony and his associates are running around trying to apprehend (or just what is he really doing?) Luke.
I mentioned the television show ‘24’ in my review for ‘Blind Waves’ as an example of what should never be done in narrating a story. Suspention of disbelief today means to pack a whole barrel full of eye candy (death, destruction, very expensive cars blowing up, sex, sex, sex, all in a span of the first 10 minutes, and there’s still 80 more minutes to go!) to go way beyond believablity and even rasons to switch off the television or DVD players (who has the money to see amovie these days?). I like what the late Robert Ludlum said of his characters and how he approached story telling, that is, when a character was shot or injured, he didn’t go jumping around like Indiana Jones to the next breathtaking scene in the plot. Here we have a novel that occurs in a 72 hour time frame. The things he does in the span of that time, and the sometimes miraculous recalls he has (as in a scene where he goes to the science section of the library to try and figure out what branch of the sciences he’s in. He does know this much! And upon reading a section of a mathematics book is happily surprised to note that he actually understands the formulas he’s reading. But for most of the novel, he’s at a loss of the less sophisticated elements. His memory imporves, but not most of it, when it needs to by the end of the book. And he manages a love affair along the way, a rekindling of a past fling. All of this at breakneck speed as it heads to an ultimate climax that frankly had me scratching my head trying to imagine how it could actually happen knowing the historical and geogrphical location.
One of the things I like about Folloett is like Fredrick Forsythe, he blends into his spy novels real historical facts that become the central plot of the story, as he does with ’Jackdaws’ about female spies behind enemy lines. It is no different here. But while I could have focused on the fiction playing with the histricity implied in the plot, I was suffering from whiplash and having to deal with satistical laws of probability as I headed to the 356th page.
Pacing is important in such types of novels. But using a measuring rod to tell if one is going over the top is important too. I think of novels such as ‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘The Hunt for Red October’ as examples of reasonable pacing. Sometimes Science Fiction and Fantasy slips into this type of storytelling where the author thinks that all I want is high octane action. If it fits, then well…ok. But that the point! It has to fit logically in the story. After being criticized for his excess in composition, to the German Emperor in the pseudo-historical movie ‘Amadeus’, Mozart says, “Which notes do you want to take out”? While Mozart could get away with answering this question with a straight face, 99% of writers, I included, cannot. Tolkien was able to produce a work of high Fantasy, adventure, and in the meantime give us something of literary value by telling the story through exquisite pacing. Most spy masters will never achieve the literary pinnacle of Tolkien, but they don’t have to. Within the frame of a book cover must be 1. Common sense applied when dealing with the logistics of the plot, and 2. A pacing that is subordinate to the parameters of what is possible with the plot and conflict associated therein. Between these two are all the thrills that can occur within a novel of World War II and Cold War spy-craft. I’m not giving up on Follett by any means. I’m just giving this a three so as not to encourage “speed” reading.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Code to Zero.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.