Review: Binary – John Lange (Michael Crichton)

2017: 73
3 of 5 stars
Published 1972

This short novel by Michael Crichton writing as John Lange early in his career, was actually the last one of 10 he wrote under a pseudonym between 1966 and 1972, 3 years after his first novel published under his own name, The Andromeda Strain, hit the best seller lists.

Binary is a thriller about the chase to prevent an insane man about to unleash a chemical weapon on San Diego on the weekend of the Republican Primary, with the President in attendance. What the naked woman on the book cover has to do with anything other than book sales, I couldn’t tell you! Very Pulp Fiction and of its time, I guess.

It’s a short novel, really not more than a novella in which Agent John Graves must piece together the clues to figure out what the impending attack will be, where and how and then work against a very clever villain who keeps one step ahead of him all the way. It’s real edge-of-your-seat stuff though the clues are almost painstakingly slow to come together at times because the reader knows more or less the nature of the attack and Graves does not.

Still, even in his early days, it’s evident Crichton can put together a page turner and it’s interesting to read some early computer-related stuff like how long it took to send a few pages of information by a telephone wire to be printed on the other side of the country and how data would be hacked and stolen. Cutting edge stuff in the early 70s but would be in a museum these days!


Review: A Stranger in the House – Shari Lapena

2017: 65
3 of 5 stars
Published 2017

I enjoyed Ms. Lapena’s first novel, The Couple Next Door and was pleased to win this in a Goodreads giveaway. This book starts with a woman driving away from a derelict area and crashing her car. She can’t remember anything about why she was where she was or any other circumstances about the crash. A  murdered man is discovered in an abandoned restaurant. The two incidents may be related.

The woman is Karen and her husband is Tom. They’ve been married for 2 years but it turns out Karen’s past is a blank, not just to Tom. The more Tom realizes he doesn’t know his wife at all, the more he becomes suspicious. Is she a murderer? Did she know the dead man? Who is she, really? Karen claims she can’t remember the accident but she knows something. What is in her past that she seems to want to hide? Is it related to the murder/accident?

Not bad, though kind of predictable. The plot twist about Karen’s background didn’t inspire me. It’s been done before and is a fairly standard plot device. When her memory starts coming back, it felt too coincidental that, at first, she remembered right up until the crucial minutes and that dragged on a bit longer again until her memory was fully restored. Add in a cliche obsessed neighbour, a former lover of Tom’s and a determined detective.

Tom is irritating and hypocritical, having his own secret or two and then getting in a knot over his wife’s past.  The two twists at the end were also predictable, pulling the rating down another half a point.  The book is written well enough but it’s not really very original.

This was a Goodreads giveaway that I won for a review.


Slow and Steady Doesn’t Always Win the Race

books_glassesI don’t mind a book that takes its time, builds a world, characters, situation. A book that meanders through the plot or doesn’t even have  a plot as such, a book that’s about the characters or a slice of life sometimes works very well. But when a book is suppose to be a thriller or have a dramatic plotline, it’s really irritating when it takes, sometimes up to over half the book to get to that bit.

I remember when I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. It was highly recommended by several friends whose taste I respected. I read. And read. And nearly 200 pages in, still nothing really had happened. I was advised to stick with it because it would turn on the proverbial dime any time. It did but it was quite a slog getting there! The rest of the book was “edge of your seat” and the other two in the trilogy each started off with a bang.

Currently, I’m ready Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer. It’s science fiction in the near future and the blurb on Goodreads and Amazon reads:

“Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously–a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.

Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible–change human nature–before the entire world descends into darkness.”

Ok, sounds good. He finds out pretty early on that he’s lost six months of memory. At 55% into the book, I only just got to the “stunning discovery” and possibly a hint of that “rising tide of violence and hate”. At 65%, I would say the “rising tide” has began. Without spoiling things, I’ve read some of the other reviews on Goodreads and there is at least one other quite dramatic plot twist going to happen but Good Grief, at this point in the book, you’d think the plot would have advanced and be well into all that to give the protagonists time to work out a solution and implement it. When they do, I have a feeling it’s going to feel rushed, simplified and tidy. Aside from that irritatingly slow build up, and an overload of science that my brain doesn’t take in, the story is pretty good. Stay tuned for the review of the book once I find out how this is going to end!

I’ve read other books like that and not just in science fiction. Maybe SciFi takes longer because the science or world has to be set up though that hasn’t always been my experience. You could do both things at the same time if you juggle it right.

Seinfeld was a tv show about “nothing”, it was the characters and the situation they found themselves in, every day life, somewhat exaggerated for the comedy. I don’t mind a book like that as long as the characters are interesting and the writing is good. But if I am expecting dramatic, I don’t want to be reading the book and thinking “get on with it!” Slow and Steady isn’t always rewarding if the author is promising high drama or action. Maybe, in this case, I’m just not patient enough to appreciate how the author is leading the reader into the story.