Day 80: Code to Zero

Cover for Code to ZeroI usually enjoy a good Ken Follett thriller, but I have to say that in Code to Zero, I felt like Follett was phoning it in. The novel is set in the depths of the Cold War, January 1958. Claude “Luke” Lucas awakens on the floor of the men’s restroom in Union Station, D.C., with no memory. He is dressed like a bum and another bum tells him how much he drank the night before.

But Luke doesn’t believe he is a bum. When the other man offers to take him on a bender, he realizes he has no desire for alcohol and concludes he must not be an alcoholic. He also quickly discovers he has other talents, like the ability to lose a shadow.

We are soon lead to conclude that Luke’s search for his identity has something to do with the launch of the Explorer I rocket, America’s last hope for competing with the Russians in the space program. We almost immediately learn (although Luke does not know) that his activities are being monitored by Anthony Carroll, a CIA operative, whose agent was the “bum” who tried to get Luke drunk. After Luke shakes off his minder, Carroll feverishly tries to locate him.

These shades of The Bourne Identity are interleaved with flashbacks to the early 40’s, when Luke is a physics student at Harvard who wants a career in rocket science. He and his friends Anthony and Bern, his girlfriend Elspeth, and Anthony’s girlfriend Billie will later be entangled in the plot.

Luke’s search for his identity and the danger he is unknowingly courting are at first compelling. The flashbacks are much less successful, because Follett doesn’t seem very interested in establishing his characters’ personalities and getting us interested in them. The latter parts of the book dealing with Luke’s unconvincingly rapid success at discovering his identity and what follows after suffer from the same problems.

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