Waking up with a hangover on the bathroom floor of a train station is never an enticing proposition. But doing so with absolutely no recollection of who you are or how you got there is even more unpleasant. Unfortunately, that is exactly the predicament faced by Luke, the protagonist in Ken Follett's latest thriller, Code to Zero.

Luke is a man without an identity, yet he possesses skills no homeless drunk would have. He effortlessly completes a crossword puzzle; he has no difficulty disarming and subduing an aggressive police officer; and he seems to know French. But he does not know who he is.

Set over less than 48 hours in 1958, Code to Zero takes place during the height of the American space race with the Soviet Union. The countdown for launch has begun for Explorer I, America's best hope to catch the Soviet Sputnik and regain the lead in space exploration.

As Luke tries to find out who he is and why he's important enough to have his identity erased, he uncovers long-kept secrets about four old friends from Harvard. The cast of characters is diverse: Anthony Carroll, now head of the Technical Services branch of the recently formed CIA; Billie Josephson, a brilliant researcher at Georgetown Mind Hospital; Bern Rothsten, Billie's ex-husband, now a famous author, and a longtime friend and rival of Luke's; and Luke's wife Elspeth, of whom he has no recollection.

Time is running out for Luke to reclaim his identity. He knows something that someone would like him to forget, and he realizes the key to piecing his life back together is somehow tied to the rocket that stands ready to launch at Cape Canaveral.

The author demonstrates a convincing understanding of American culture and language. Many readers may not be aware that Follett is British, and after reading Code to Zero they wouldn't suspect it.

Follett has made a name for himself by writing taut, well-researched thrillers, and Code to Zero is no exception.

Wes Breazeale is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest.

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