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
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.
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