Code to Zero - Ken Follett Follett has written some fascinating historical novels, my favorite being Pillars of the Earth, the story of building a medieval cathedral, but this is the first spy novel. It’s riveting.
Shortly before the launch of America’s first attempt at a response to Sputnik in 1958, a man awakens in the men’s room of Union Station in Washington, D.C. and he has absolutely no idea who he is. He’s covered in vomit and dressed like a bum, but at a local shelter he puzzles the priest in charge by displaying rather extraordinary crossword puzzle skills. He soon discovers that someone is following him, and that he seems to have all sorts of skills that unfathomably seem innate. By dint of some very clever self-analysis of these skills, he manages to go to a lecture where he is sure someone will recognize him and help him to restore his identity.
He learns he is Dr. Claude “Luke” Lucas, a well-known rocket scientist working with Werner von Braun and had been en route to Washington from Cape Canaveral to warn someone in the security agencies about something he can’t remember. Flashbacks inform the reader of the intricate relationships during his college years that he had had with Elspeth, his wife; Billie, a woman he once loved who is now a renowned memory expert; and Anthony Carroll, his former colleague in the OSS who ostensibly believes Luke is a Russian spy intent on sabotaging the American space program. Anthony, now a CIA operative, is the one behind the memory loss. His motive is to protect Luke, whom he still values as a friend, but now knows to be a Russian spy. He has proof that Like has been delivering blueprints to the Russians. At least that’s the cover story.
The United States is about to send the Explorer I spacecraft into space in hopes of thwarting the Russian dominance of space following its successful launch of Sputnik. Each chapter begins with a short piece about the mechanisms of the rocket — although one reviewer noted these sections are riddled (pun intended) with errors.
Luke begins to piece together who he is while trying to evade Anthony’s agents. It’s done very realistically with shades of the Manchurian Candidate — it’s even obliquely referred to by one of the characters who supposedly had submitted the manuscript to Hollywood.
Great fun. I'd give it 4 stars but it doesn't reach the level of masters like John Le Carre et al