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Code To Zero Mass Market Paperback – November 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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."

"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."

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.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Signet; 1st edition (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451204530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451204530
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.3 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (295 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ken Follett was only twenty-seven when he wrote the award-winning EYE OF THE NEEDLE, which became an international bestseller. His celebrated PILLARS OF THE EARTH was voted into the top 100 of Britain's best-loved books in the BBC's the Big Read and the sequel, WORLD WITHOUT END, will be published in Autumn 2007. He has since written several equally successful novels including, most recently, WHITEOUT. He is also the author of non-fiction bestseller ON WINGS OF EAGLES. He lives with his family in London and Hertfordshire.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Steven K. Szmutko VINE VOICE on February 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I had the opportunity to read Ken Follet's CODE TO ZERO last week. The tale of a man who wakes up in a Union Station restroom suffering from autobiographical amnesia is compelling The protagonist must find out, in short order, who he is, why he has lost his memory, who has done this to him and what are the consequences if he does not recover. The story is set in the late 50's as America attempts to put a satellite in space, countering the Russian-launched Sputnik. As he slowly discovers that he is Claude "Luke" Lucas, a rocket scientist of some fame and renown, he discovers that he is the victim of a plot to silence him. Why, however, he and the reader must discover as the novel races from place to place at race-car pace.
Ken Follett has long been a favorite author of mine, particularly for his book, PILLARS OF THE EARTH, which involved the construction of a magnificent Gothic cathedral in 12th century England. That book, epic in scale, intertwines various characters, kings, noblemen and noblewomen, clergy and peasants in a story of faith intrigue and power in the middle ages. This book, while considerably shorter in length, move quickly. I never lost interest! Indeed, I read the book in one sitting in about 4 hours which is most unusual for me. I would recommend the book highly to anyone who enjoys a good yarn.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By C. Kuschel-Toerber on November 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I've always been a huge fan of Mr. Follett's work but was a little disappointed with the last two releases. After the first good reviews of his latest effort I eagerly awaited the delivery of the novel and immediately started reading.
The story is good and exciting, but the book could have been so much better if Ken Follett had just developed the characters a little deeper. The british edition clocks in at just 324 pages, at twice that amount "Code to Zero" could have been brilliant.
Just imagine the lead character waking up without any memory of who he is - solving not only his own mystery but working out his past love life, saving the American space program and bringing the bad guys to justice - all in 300 pages (net).
I would have loved a little more of this basically good story for my money. Ken Follett knows how to keep readers hooked beyond a few pages, as he's proven with blockbusters like "Pillars of the Earth" or "Night Over Water" - why not try again?
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Flippers on January 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you like Ken Follett's spy thrillers you won't be too disappointed. I loved his historical novels and just started in on these cold war stories. The thing that shocked me was the inattention to detail and almost consistent misrepresentation of historical facts. I felt like his historical books were great fiction set against solid research. Now I'll have to go back and check. In this book, he made small mistakes, like portraying Huntsville, AL in the Eastern time zone instead of Central. Maybe that helped the story since the action kept moving from Huntsville to Washington DC and Florida during the countdown. But he also had Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1968 instead of 1969. What was the point of that? So I went onto the web and looked up several items that he talked about in the foundation of the story. Turns out that Mr. Follett may have intentionally changed a bunch of things, but I never figured out the purpose of the misrepresentations. If you like his historical notes at the beginning of the chapter, don't believe them. Go to [...] to get a nice summary of the reality. Otherwise, the book is certainly worth the price. I couldn't put it down. It is just fiction, after all.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on November 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In 1958, he awakens in the public toilet Of DC's Union Station. In the mirror he looks at the reflection of a bum. Still, the image means nothing to him, as he has no idea who he is. A companion Pete informs him he is Luke, a wino and that they shared a bottle last night. However, in spite of his buddy's insistence, being a derelict seems wrong to Luke and when he has no psychological need to find alcohol he concludes that Pete is a liar.
Luke begins to search for his lost identity and the someone who went to the trouble of setting up the tramp scenario. As he uncovers more and more of the truth, Luke realizes that he is somehow involved in the American space race to match the Russian successful launch of Sputnik. How and what his role was eludes Luke who remains unaware of the master plan to abort the space program.
Ken Follett returns to his most comfortable milieu, the heated period of the Cold War with a fabulous, fast-paced thriller. The story line moves forward quickly as readers obtain a look back to an era that seems so much like ancient history though it is only four decades ago. Though a bit formulaic, the plot keeps the attention of the audience due to Luke's everyman fighting impossible odds a la Grant on Rushmore.

Harriet Klausner
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John W. Bates on December 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ken Follett has a knack for building a suspense thriller around historical events, even one which might have been routine. His latest novel, Code to Zero, is a perfect example. While the 1958 launch of Explorer I, putting America into space and starting the drive to catch up with and surpass the Soviet's space initiative was historically significant, it is not something a reader would expect to inspire an espionage thriller. Evidence of Follett's writing skill is that he keeps the suspense level high while we all know the launch was successful. Code to Zero begins with an apparent bum waking up in the men's toilet at Union Station in Washington, D.C. He has no memory of who he is or even where he is, much less how he got there. Someone else in the room guides him toward a shelter for food, and calls him "Luke." As he wanders around, however, he discovers that he has skills. He notices that he is being followed, that he knows how to elude his shadowers, that he knows how to "live off the land" in an urban setting. He also realizes that he has no cravings for drink or drugs. Something must be wrong. Luke's adventures do not have the anxiety dream character that Robert Ludlum provides in his novels. Luke proceeds logically and makes progress in his quest for identity and explanation. He finds help along the way, of course. In this case there is the amazing coincidence of having also in D.C. Luke's former girlfriend who is a specialist in memory loss, and two more of his college friends who served with him in the O.S.S. during World War II. It still works, aided immensely by Follet's use of flashbacks to develop the characters as we meet them and as their parts in the drama grow. Code to Zero is good, solid Follett, and a pleasure to read.
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