Wednesday, March 26, 2014

read: Apocalypse: A Novel (3 stars)

Apocalypse: A NovelApocalypse: A Novel by Dean Crawford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At its core, a techno-thriller needs three things: a high concept (technology or device de jour), an irresistible force (the villain and his scheme) and an immovable object (the hero and his convictions). All three have to be believable to make the book hold together. The rest -- characters, plot, settings and writing -- are what make the book enjoyable. Dean Crawford's "Apocalypse" has all of the above, in various measures, and turns out to be a reasonably enjoyable read.

The device de jour in this case has something to do with time travel, and it takes pretty much the first half of the novel to get any kind of traction into what that's about. The latter half of the novel continues to ruminate on this concept, pretending to go into details (though sometimes contradicting itself) about how that might be accomplished. It's a high concept alright, and tons of fun (until someone gets hurt), and complete hogwash if you think about it hard enough.

The irresistible force in this case is Joaquin Abell, who the world sees as a philanthropist. But whose true motivations, of course, turn out to be questionable at best. He plans to use the time travel technology for the betterment of mankind. The problem is that he isn't all that interested in what mankind has to say about the matter or how many casualties there are along the way.

The immovable object is Ethan Warner (and his partner Nicola Lopez) a freelance private investigator with government ties and a suitably unfortunate background that is alluded to from time to time, but doesn't affect the enjoyment of the current situation. They're brought in when one of Abell's scientists is suspected of killing his own family, but calls the police himself and causes quite a stir when he seems to accurately predict the future. He inexplicably insists that they call in Warner to get to the bottom of things.

What works: The time travel concept is presented with just enough hand-waving to make it seem plausible enough for the purposes of the story. It is used to good effect to create an intricate plot that mostly holds together over the course of the story. There are no egregious bouts of info-dump to spoil the pacing. Just a few pages here and there that could have been pared down a bit more. The large cast of characters is well wrought and well used, though I think there are a few too many. The fight and battle scenes are pretty detailed and realistic.

What didn't work: I think both the character problem (which led to a few pacing issues) and some glaring issues I have with the author's prose could have been remedied by a couple more ruthless rounds of editing. There are some turns of phrase that are repeated, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, as the author keeps trying to string together too many thoughts into a single sentence. And as he stumbles his way in and out of situations, instead of just letting them transpire. To top it off, there is a glaring violation of the story's own rules about how time travel works. For a page or two, I thought the writer was going to turn it into a certain kind of plot twist, but instead he blundered right into and through it, and left it lying there, ignored, as he wrapped things up. Oh well, it wouldn't be a time travel story without a paradox of causality.

All the good stuff adds up to at least a four-star novel. Some rigorous editing would have gotten it there. With one star knocked off for the bad stuff, this is still an enjoyable three-star book. It's definitely something to read on the plane or beach this summer.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

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