January, 1958—the darkest hour of the cold war and the early dawn of the space race. On the launch pad at Cape Canaveral sits America’s best hope to catch up with the Russians—the Explorer I satellite. But at the last moment, the launch is delayed due to weather, even though everyone can see it is a perfectly sunny day.
The real reason for the delay rests deep in the mind of NASA scientist who has awoken that morning to find his memory completely erased. Knowing only that he’s being followed and watched at every turn, he must find the clues to his own identity before he can discover who is responsible. But even more terrible is the dark secret that they wanted him to forget. A secret that can destroy the Explorer I—and America’s future…
A Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Guild ® and Doubleday Book Club
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." 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.
"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."
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
Ed Hahn (USA: MT) (2010/02/17):
Not one of Follett's best but an entertaining read.
Taking place during the cold war, it describes an effort to frustArate the U.S. effort to place a satellite in space and so to compete with the Russians who had already launched Sputnik and sent Laika, a dog, into space.
The most interesting twist was the use of amnesia to set the stage and introduce us to both the protagonist and his main antagonist. The characters were drawn fairly well, although more could have been done with their motivations.
The plot is clever and has a few twists that were unexpected but also a few that could be seen from afar. The ending is a little too neat for a novel. It was more suitable for a nail biter of a movie.
As usual, Follett does a good job of describing the era he is writing about, particularly the foibles of the characters. Having been born in the 1930's, I was struck with how accurate his take on people's attitudes in the 40s and 50s, toward sex, marriage, family, and social status was.
All in all, this was a nice piece of mind candy and fun to spend two or three days with.