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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Code to Zero

Reviewed: October 14, 2007
By: Ken Follett
Publisher: Pan Books
464 pages, $10.99

“He woke up scared. Worse than that he was terrified. It was like a nightmare, except that waking brought no sense of relief. He felt that something dreadful had happened, but he did not know what it was.”

Nor does he know who he is, except that he’s just awakened in a men’s washroom, stinking of booze and is apparently a bum. That doesn’t fit logically with the fact that he’s in pretty good physical shape and that when he is attacked he has reflexes that make short work of his assailants. Nor does the mind of a befuddled boozer seem likely to be able to concoct a plan for blending in with the regular folks, shaking off some people that seem to be following him, and investigating his own origins so as to find out who he is.

This may sound a little bit like Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity, but the “man with amnesia” routine is a staple in the thriller business, and can be a lot of fun in the hands of a master of the genre like Ken Follett.

“Luke” Lucas’s story is set in the late 1950s and tied into the history of the US launch of Explorer 1, part of America’s frantic attempt to catch up to the Soviet Union in the space race after the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1.

That Luke is in some way connected to the Explorer launch is clear from the parallel plot line that follows the hours prior to that rocket’s launch, providing the “ticking clock” effect that thriller writers love to use. We are in on the events at the base as the rocket is readied for its mission. We follow the movements of Luke’s wife and his good friend, Anthony, as they try to find out what has happened to him.

Flashbacks take us to 1939, when Luke and his friends were college students learning how to be adults and about to be recruited as agents for undercover work during the Second World War. We learn about relationships and who paired off with who and why, and we begin to understand some of intuitive things that Luke is doing to figure out what happened to him

Luke’s hazy memory isn’t quite right, you see. Sure, something bad happened to him, but something a lot worse is going to happen to a whole lot of people if he doesn’t figure out the meaning of the trail of bread crumbs that his earlier investigation - the one that resulted in him losing his memory - has left for him to follow.

This is what I will call a “cracking good read”. It took me a while, because I read it at school, while setting a good example during silent reading periods in my English classes, but I never had any trouble getting back into it and it always made those half hour sessions feel too short.

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