Code to Zero

( 60 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
It's early in 1958. Reeling from the Soviet Union's Sputnik success, the United States struggles desperately to catch up. Thus far, those efforts have resulted in a series of spectacular failures. Now the hopes of a nation, and the future of the U.S. space program, hinge on the successful launch of Explorer I, scheduled to lift off on January 29th.

The odds against a successful launch, however, are even more formidable than anyone anticipated. Technical obstacles were to be expected. Internal problems were not. A Soviet mole, his role until now limited to passing American technology to Moscow, has been instructed to sabotage the launch.

With the future of the free world at stake, only one man can foil the Soviet plan. Unfortunately, with only two days until launch, he doesn't even know about it. That man, you see, has just awakened in a Washington, D.C., subway station, smelling of alcohol -- apparently one of the numerous homeless who have found shelter there. He can't remember who he is or how he got there. Armed with only a single clue -- a fellow traveler addresses him as "Luke" -- he begins a perilous search for his identity, a search that ultimately leads him into direct conflict with a Soviet spy network intent on preventing U.S. entry into space.

Fueled by this intriguing premise, Code to Zero hurtles to its surprising climax with blinding speed, taking readers for a hair-raising ride. Although some may find it a bit melodramatic (perhaps intentionally, Follett's writing style echoes that of novels written during the early days of the space race, and the success of the hero's search often hinges on coincidence and breathtaking, intuitive leaps of logic), most will find Code to Zero an enjoyable read, if only because of Follett's painstaking attention to detail -- he provides copious information about the technical side of the launch, and about the state of psychology at the time -- and the intriguing supporting cast he has assembled. Although Follett is not quite at the top of his form here (look to Eye of the Needle, The Pillars of the Earth, Night over Water, and On Wings of Eagles for that), Code to Zero is head-and-shoulders above most of its current competition. After three decades in the business, Follett knows what buttons to push, and when to push them.

--Hank Wagner

Hank Wagner is a book reviewer for Cemetery Dance magazine and The Overlook Connection.

Bookpage
Follett has made a name for himself by writing taut, well-researched thrillers, and Code to Zero is no exception.
New York Times Book Review
With dependable skill, Follett weaves the threads of his narrative together, tying them into an unexpected and story-resolving knot....
Cleveland Plain Dealer
The premise is vintage Follett.
Style Weekly Magazine
Thriller fans will enjoy this novel set in 1958.
Baltimore Sun
...Follett builds the plot so well, framing it...the result is entertaining....
Los Angeles Times
Ken Follett delivers the surefire suspense readers have come to expect.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Follett is an artist of compelling talents.
From The Critics
You know a novelist is tired when his protagonist suffers from that old soap-opera plot device, amnesia—even if it is caused by the CIA. After rocket scientist Claude Lucas discovers a Soviet plan to blow up a 1958 Cape Canaveral launch, a Russian spy in the CIA administers an incapacitating drug to Lucas instead of killing him, one of several improbabilities. Another: The spy was an old Harvard classmate of Lucas. This information doesn't give away the plot because, in fact, all of the novel's five principals were friends in Cambridge, a very tight best-and-brightest group indeed. To save the rocket, Lucas has to recover his identity, uncover the spy network and make love to the woman he should have married. The stakes just aren't that thrilling, not now. We know who won the space race and the cold war. The characters try to elicit some excitement by speaking urgent movie lines as they get in and out of planes, trains and cars. But Follett is no Le Carré. Almost never does a metaphor, complex sentence or intimate perception beautify Follett's screenplay prose. Like the grand novel of rocketry, Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, this book includes considerable historical and technical detail, but Follett's fifteenth book is slow to get off the ground, lacks throw weight and ends with a thud.
—Tom LeClair

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HAfter dabbling in his last few books in historical sagas and various thriller subgenres, Follett returns to his espionage roots with this absorbing, tightly plotted Cold War tale about skullduggery in the early days of the space race. Set in 1958 shortly after the Soviets beat the Americans into orbit, the story tracks the frantic movements of Dr. Claude Lucas, who wakes up one morning in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, dressed as a bum. A victim of amnesia, he has no recollection that he is a key player in the upcoming launch of Explorer 1, the army's latest attempt to get a rocket into space. While Lucas slowly unravels the clues to his identity, the CIA follows its own agenda. The agency, led by Lucas's old Harvard buddy Anthony Carroll, has its own murky reasons for wanting Lucas to remain amnesic, and will kill him if he tries to interfere with the launch. Follett (The Hammer of Eden) does a wonderful job of keeping readers guessing about Lucas; is he a spy trying to foil the launch, as the CIA apparently believes? From the nation's capital to Alabama and Cape Canaveral, Lucas manages to stay one step ahead of his pursuers, steadily learning more about his memory loss, his wife, Elspeth, and his college friends Carroll, Billie Josephson and Bern Rothsten. Suspense junkies won't be disappointed by Follett's man-on-the-run framework; tension courses through the book from start to finish. Yet where the story shines is in the chemistry between Lucas and the four other major characters. As told through a series of well-chosen flashbacks, all the old college chums are now working or have worked as spies. The dilemma, skillfully posed by Follett, is figuring out who's friend and who's foe. (Dec. 4) Forecast: In his first hardcover for Dutton, Follett is wise to return to his forte of espionage thriller, and to base this novel on a real event, the unexplained delay of the 1958 Explorer 1 launch. Given the promotional hooplaDwhich includes a 425,000 first printing and $400,000 ad/promoDplus first serial to Reader's Digest; status as a BOMC, Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selection; simultaneous audios from Penguin Audio; and the sale of movie rights to Columbia Pictures, this book has a good chance of dancing with the charts. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
With Eye of the Needle and the numerous novels that followed, Follett established himself as a master of the thriller. This latest tale of Cold War espionage is one more bit of evidence. In a narrative that moves smoothly between the World War II years and 1958, when the Soviet Union began the space race by launching Sputnik, Follett reminds us of an almost forgotten time when the very thought of Soviet successes in space terrified us. Scientist and former OSS agent Dr. Claude ("Luke") Lukas knows that something terrible will happen to a coming space launch, but he has been drugged and now suffers from amnesia. What follows is the taut and exciting story of Luke's attempt to find his identity and stop an unknown disaster from occurring. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/00.]--Robert Conroy, Warren, MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From veteran spymeister Follett (The Hammer of Eden, 1998, etc.), the story of a the space race that never gets off the ground. Amnesia is the engine Follett chooses to drive his latest and, not unexpectedly, the worn-out thing sputters. Dr. Luke Lucas, waking up on the cold, hard floor of a public toilet in Union Station, Washington, D.C.—headachy, nauseous, shabbily dressed—wonders how he got there. Well, thereby hangs the tale. It's January 1958, mid—Cold War, and the Soviets have already orbited Sputnik. The Americans, intent on catching up, are set to launch the first US space satellite. Rocket scientist Luke is central to the success of the effort, in part because of his brilliant mathematical mind, but also because he's accidentally stumbled on a plot to keep Explorer I from ever leaving its Cape Canaveral pad. Determined to block Luke's attempt to block their attempt to block a launch, Communist agents have hijacked him and administered memory-robbing drugs, which explains his rude awakening. If that doesn't work, they plan to knock him off him. Why not simply kill him and be done with it? More efficient, true, but a certain strategically placed CIA mole happens to have been Luke's Harvard classmate, and at first he chooses friendship over pragmatism. So, though Luke no longer knows what he knew, the game's afoot as our hero, in hiding, strives to retrieve enough of his memory to figure out why old pals and former lovers are now bent on betrayal, while the desperate Commies seek him here, there, and everywhere. Full of misplaced Cold War nostalgia and dreary, threadbare characters. And really now, amnesia? In this day andage?With a straightface? First printing of 425,000; $400,000 ad/promo; first serial to Reader's Digest; film rights to Columbia Pictures; Book-of-the-Month Club/Literary Guild main selection; TV satellite tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451204530
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/30/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 228,220
  • Product dimensions: 6.94 (w) x 4.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ken Follett is the international bestselling author of suspense thrillers and the nonfiction On Wings of Eagles.

Biography

As a young boy growing up in Cardiff, Wales, Ken Follett's love for all things literary began early on. The son of devoutly religious parents who didn't allow their children to watch television or even listen to the radio, Follett found himself drawn to the library. It soon became his favorite place -- its shelves full of stories providing his escape, and ultimately, his inspiration.

Follett's more formal education took place years later at London's University College, where he studied philosophy -- a choice that, as he explains on his official Web site, he believes guided his career as an author. "There is a real connection between philosophy and fiction," Follet explains. "In philosophy you deal with questions like: ‘We're sitting at this table, but is the table real?' A daft question, but in studying philosophy, you need to take that sort of thing seriously and have an off-the-wall imagination. Writing fiction is the same."

After graduating in 1970, a journalism class touched off Follett's career as a writer. He started out covering beats for the South Wales Echo, and later wrote a column for London's Evening News. Becoming more and more interested in writing fiction on evenings and weekends, however, Follett soon realized that books were his true business, and in 1974 he went to work for Everest Books, a humble London publishing house.

After releasing a few of his own novels to less than thunderous acclaim --including The Shakeout (1975) and Paper Money (1977) -- Follett finally hit it big with 1978's Eye of the Needle. The taut, edgy thriller with more than a dash of sex appeal flew off the shelves, winning the Edgar award and allowing Follett to quit his job and get to work on his next book, Triple. Showing no signs of a sophomore slump, Triple went on to spark a string of bestselling spy thrillers, including The Key to Rebecca (1980), The Man from St. Petersburg (1982), and Lie Down with Lions (1986). 1983's On Wings of Eagles was an interesting departure -- a nonfiction account of how two of Ross Perot's employees were rescued from Iran in 1979.

Follett changed direction even more sharply in 1989, surprising fans with The Pillars of the Earth -- a novel set in the Middle Ages many critics considered his crowning achievement. "A novel of majesty and power," said The Chicago Sun-Times of Follett's epic story. "It will hold you, fascinate you, surround you."

Follett's next three books were a trio considered to be more suspenseful than thrill-filled -- Night Over Water (1991), A Dangerous Fortune (1993) and A Place Called Freedom (1995), but The Third Twin (1996) and The Hammer of Eden (1998) marked a return to Follett's trademark capers. The wartime novels Code to Zero (2000) and Jackdaws (2001) showcased Follett's "unique ability to tell stories of international conflict and tell them well," according to Larry King in USA Today.

Follett "hits the mark again" (Publishers Weekly) with his latest story of international intrigue, Hornet Flight (2002) -- the WWII story of a young couple trying to escape occupied Denmark in a rebuilt Hornet Moth biplane who become unwitting carriers of top-secret information.

In a way, Follett's smash-hit success has allowed him to give back to the library of Cardiff, Wales -- by filling its shelves with his own transporting tales.

Good To Know

Eye of the Needle was made into a major motion picture, and four of Follett's books have been made into television mini-series: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, On Wings of Eagles and The Third Twin -- the rights for which were sold to CBS for the record sum of $1,400,000.

A very civic-minded soul, Follett is quite involved in his Hertfordshire community, serving as President of the Dyslexia Institute, Council Member of the National Literacy Trust, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Chair of Governors of the Roebuck Primary School & Nursery, Patron of Stevenage Home-Start, director of the Stevenage Leisure Ltd. and Vice-President of the Stevenage Borough Football club.

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    1. Hometown:
      Hertfordshire, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 5, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cardiff, Wales
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Philosophy, University College, London, 1970

Read an Excerpt

5 a.m.

The Jupiter C missile stands on the launch pad at Complex 26, Cape Canaveral. For secrecy, it is draped in vast canvas shrouds that hide everything but its tail, which is that of the Army’s familiar Redstone rocket. But the rest of it, under the concealing cloak, is quite unique . . .

He woke up scared.

Worse than that: he was terrified. His heart was pounding, his breath came in gasps, and his body was taut. It was like a nightmare, except that waking brought no sense of relief. He felt that something dreadful had happened, but he did not know what it was.

He opened his eyes. A faint light from another room dimly illuminated his surroundings, and he made out vague shapes, familiar but sinister. Somewhere nearby, water ran in a cistern.

He tried to make himself calm. He swallowed, took regular breaths, and attempted to think straight. He was lying on a hard floor. He was cold, he hurt everywhere, and he had some kind of hangover, with a headache and a dry mouth and a feeling of nausea.

He sat upright, shaking with fear. There was an unpleasant smell of damp floors washed with strong disinfectant. He recognized the outline of a row of washbasins.

He was in a public toilet.

He felt disgusted. He had been sleeping on the floor of a men’s room. What the hell had happened to him? He concentrated. He was fully dressed, wearing some kind of topcoat and heavy boots, though he had a feeling that these were not his clothes. His panic was subsiding, but in its place came a deeper fear, less hysterical but more rational. What had happened to him was very bad.

He needed light.

He got to his feet. He looked around, peering into the gloom, and guessed where the door might be. Holding his arms out in front of him in case of invisible obstacles, he made his way to a wall. Then he walked crabwise, his hands exploring. He found a cold glassy surface he guessed was a mirror. Then there was a towel roller, then a metal box that might be a slot machine. At last his fingertips touched a switch, and he turned it on.

Bright light flooded white-tiled walls, a concrete floor, and a line of toilets with open doors. In a corner was what looked like a bundle of old clothes. He asked himself how he got here. He concentrated hard. What had happened last night? He could not remember.

The hysterical fear began to return as he realized he could not remember anything at all.

He clenched his teeth to stop himself from crying out. Yesterday . . . the day before . . . nothing. What was his name? He did not know.

He turned toward the row of basins. Above them was a long mirror. In the glass he saw a filthy hobo, dressed in rags, with matted hair, a dirty face, and a crazy, pop-eyed stare. He looked at the hobo for a second; then he was hit by a terrible revelation. He stared back, with a cry of shock, and the man in the mirror did the same. The hobo was himself.

He could no longer hold back the tide of panic. He opened his mouth and, in a voice that shook with terror, he shouted, “Who am I?”

>>><<<

The bundle of old clothes moved. It rolled over, a face appeared, and a voice mumbled, “You’re a bum, Luke, pipe down.”

His name was Luke.

He was pathetically grateful for the knowledge. A name was not much, but it gave him a focus. He stared at his companion. The man wore a ripped tweed coat with a length of string around the waist for a belt. The grimy young face had a crafty look. The man rubbed his eyes and muttered, “My head hurts.”

Luke said, “Who are you?”

“I’m Pete, you retard—

“I can’t—” Luke swallowed, holding down the panic. “I’ve lost my memory!”

“I ain’t surprised. You drank most of a bottle of liquor yesterday. It’s a miracle you didn’t lose your entire mind.” He licked his lips. “I didn’t get hardly any of that goddamn bourbon.”

Bourbon would explain the hangover, Luke thought. “But why would I drink a whole bottle?”

Pete laughed mockingly. “That’s about the dumbest question I ever heard. To get drunk, of course!”

Luke was appalled. He was a drunken bum who slept in public toilets.

He had a raging thirst. He bent over a washbasin, ran the cold water, and drank from the tap. It made him feel better. He wiped his mouth, then forced himself to look in the mirror again.

The face was calmer now. The mad stare had gone, replaced by a look of bewilderment and dismay. The reflection showed a man in his late thirties, with dark hair and blue eyes. He had no beard or mustache, just a heavy growth of dark stubble.

He turned back to his companion. “Luke what?” he said. “What’s my last name?”

“Luke . . . something, how the hell am I supposed to know?”

“How did I get this way? How long has it been going on? Why did it happen?”

Pete got to his feet. “I need some breakfast,” he said.

Luke realized he was hungry. He wondered if he had any money. He searched the pockets of his clothes: the raincoat, the jacket, the pants. All were empty. He had no money, no wallet, not even a handkerchief. No assets, no clues. “I think I’m broke,” he said.

“No kidding,” Pete said sarcastically. “Come on.” He stumbled through a doorway.

Luke followed.

When he emerged into the light, he suffered another shock. He was in a huge temple, empty and eerily silent. Mahogany benches stood in rows on the marble floor, like church pews waiting for a ghostly congregation. Around the vast room, on a high stone lintel atop rows of pillars, surreal stone warriors with helmets and shields stood guard over the holy place. Far above their heads was a vaulted ceiling richly decorated with gilded octagons. The insane thought crossed Luke’s mind that he had been the sacrificial victim in a weird rite that had left him with no memory.

Awestruck, he said, “What is this place?”

“Union Station, Washington, D.C.,” said Pete.

A relay closed in Luke’s mind, and the whole thing made sense. With relief he saw the grime on the walls, the chewing gum trodden into the marble floor, and the candy wrappers and cigarette packs in the corners, and he felt foolish. He was in a grandiose train station, early in the morning before it filled up with passengers. He had scared himself, like a child imagining monsters in a darkened bedroom.

Pete headed for a triumphal arch marked exit, and Luke hurried after him.

An aggressive voice called, “Hey! Hey, you!”

Pete said, “Oh-oh.” He quickened his step.

A stout man in a tight-fitting railroad uniform bore down on them, full of righteous indignation. “Where did you bums spring from?”

Pete whined, “We’re leaving, we’re leaving.”

Luke was humiliated to be chased out of a train station by a fat official.

The man was not content just to get rid of them. “You been sleeping here, ain’t you?” he protested, following hard on their heels. “You know that ain’t allowed.”

It angered Luke to be lectured like a schoolboy, even though he guessed he deserved it. He had slept in the damn toilet. He suppressed a retort and walked faster.

“This ain’t a flophouse,” the man went on. “Damn bums, now scram!” He shoved Luke’s shoulder.

Luke turned suddenly and confronted the man. “Don’t touch me,” he said. He was surprised by the quiet menace in his own voice. The official stopped short. “We’re leaving, so you don’t need to do or say anything more—is that clear?”

The man took a big step backward, looking scared.

Pete took Luke’s arm. “Let’s go.”

Luke felt ashamed. The guy was an officious twerp, but Luke and Pete were vagrants, and a railroad employee had the right to throw them out. Luke had no business to intimidate him.

They passed through the majestic archway. It was dark outside. A few cars were parked around the traffic circle in front of the station, but the streets were quiet. The air was bitterly cold, and Luke drew his ragged clothes closer about him. It was winter, a frosty morning in Washington, maybe January or February.

He wondered what year it was.

Pete turned left, apparently sure where he was going. Luke followed. “Where are we headed?” he asked.

“I know a gospel shop on H Street where we can get free breakfast, so long as you don’t mind singing a hymn or two.”

“I’m starving. I’ll sing a whole oratorio.”

Pete confidently followed a zigzag route through a low-rent neighborhood. The city was not yet awake. The houses were dark and the stores shuttered, the greasy spoons and the newsstands not yet open. Glancing at a bedroom window hung with cheap curtains, Luke imagined a man inside, fast asleep under a pile of blankets, his wife warm beside him; and he felt a pang of envy. It seemed that he belonged out here, in the predawn community of men and women who ventured into the cold streets while ordinary people slept on: the man in work clothes shuffling to an early-morning job; the young bicycle rider muffled in scarf and gloves; the solitary woman smoking in the brightly lit interior of a bus.

His mind seethed with anxious questions. How long had he been a drunk? Had he ever tried to dry out? Did he have any family who might help him? Where had he met Pete? Where did they get the booze? Where did they drink it? But Pete’s manner was taciturn, and Luke controlled his impatience, hoping Pete might be more forthcoming when he had some food inside him.

They came to a small church standing defiantly between a cinema and a smoke shop. They entered by a side door and went down a flight of stairs to the basement. Luke found himself in a long room with a low ceiling—the crypt, he guessed. At one end he saw an upright piano and a small pulpit, at the other, a kitchen range. In between were three rows of trestle tables with benches. Three bums sat there, one at each table, staring patiently into space. At the kitchen end, a dumpy woman stirred a big pot. Beside her, a gray-bearded man wearing a clerical collar looked up from a coffee urn and smiled. “Come in, come in!” he said cheerfully. “Come in to the warm.” Luke regarded him warily, wondering if he was for real.

It was warm, stiflingly so after the wintry air outside. Luke unbuttoned his grubby trenchcoat. Pete said, “Morning, Pastor Lonegan.”

The pastor said, “Have you been here before? I’ve forgotten your name.”

“I’m Pete. He’s Luke.”

“Two disciples!” His bonhomie seemed genuine. “You’re a little early for breakfast, but there’s fresh coffee.”

Luke wondered how Lonegan maintained his cheery disposition when he had to get up this early to serve breakfast to a roomful of catatonic deadbeats.

The pastor poured coffee into thick mugs. “Milk and sugar?”

Luke did not know whether he liked milk and sugar in his coffee. “Yes, thank you,” he said, guessing. He accepted the mug and sipped the coffee. It tasted sickeningly creamy and sweet. He guessed he normally took it black. But it assuaged his hunger, and he drank it all quickly.

“We’ll have a word of prayer in a few minutes,” said the pastor. “By the time we’re done, Mrs. Lonegan’s famous oatmeal should be cooked to perfection.”

Luke decided his suspicion had been unworthy. Pastor Lonegan was what he seemed: a cheerful guy who liked to help people.

Luke and Pete sat at the rough plank table, and Luke studied his companion. Until now, he had noticed only the dirty face and ragged clothes. Now he saw that Pete had none of the marks of a long-term drunk: no broken veins, no dry skin flaking off the face, no cuts or bruises. Perhaps he was too young—only about twenty-five, Luke guessed. But Pete was slightly disfigured. He had a dark red birthmark that ran from his right ear to his jawline. His teeth were uneven and discolored. The dark mustache had probably been grown to distract attention from his bad teeth, back in the days when he cared about his appearance. Luke sensed suppressed anger in him. He guessed that Pete resented the world, maybe for making him ugly, maybe for some other reason. He probably had a theory that the country was being ruined by some group he hated: Chinese immigrants, or uppity Negroes, or a shadowy club of ten rich men who secretly controlled the stock market.

“What are you staring at?” Pete said.

Luke shrugged and did not reply. On the table was a newspaper folded open at the crossword, and a stub of pencil. Luke glanced idly at the grid, picked up the pencil, and started to fill in the answers.

More bums drifted in. Mrs. Lonegan put out a stack of heavy bowls and a pile of spoons. Luke got all the crossword clues but one—“Small place in Denmark,” six letters. Pastor Lonegan looked over his shoulder at the filled-out grid, raised his eyebrows in surprise, and said quietly to his wife, “O! what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”

Luke immediately got the last clue—HAMLET—and wrote it in. Then he thought, How did I know that?

He unfolded the paper and looked at the front page for the date. It was Wednesday, January 29, 1958. His eye was caught by the headline U.S. MOON STAYS EARTHBOUND. He read on:

Cape Canaveral, Tuesday: The U.S. Navy today abandoned a second attempt to launch its space rocket, Vanguard, after multiple technical problems.

The decision comes two months after the first Vanguard launch ended in humiliating disaster when the rocket exploded two seconds after ignition.

American hopes of launching a space satellite to rival the Soviet Sputnik now rest with the Army’s rival Jupiter missile.

The piano sounded a strident chord, and Luke looked up. Mrs. Lonegan was playing the introductory notes of a familiar hymn. She and her husband began to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and Luke joined in, pleased he could remember it.

Bourbon had a strange effect, he thought. He could do the crossword and sing a hymn from memory, but he did not know his mother’s name. Perhaps he had been drinking for years and had damaged his brain. He wondered how he could have let such a thing happen.

After the hymn, Pastor Lonegan read some Bible verses, then told them all that they could be saved. Here was a group that really needed saving, Luke thought. All the same, he was not tempted to put his faith in Jesus. First he needed to find out who he was.

The pastor extemporized a prayer, they sang grace, and then the men lined up and Mrs. Lonegan served them hot oatmeal with syrup. Luke ate three bowls. Afterward, he felt much better. His hangover was receding fast.

Impatient to resume his questions, he approached the pastor. “Sir, have you seen me here before? I’ve lost my memory.”

Lonegan looked hard at him. “You know, I don’t believe I have. But I meet hundreds of people every week, and I could be mistaken. How old are you?”

“I don’t know,” Luke said, feeling foolish.

“Late thirties, I’d say. You haven’t been living rough very long. It takes its toll on a man. But you walk with a spring in your step, your skin is clear under the dirt, and you’re still alert enough to do a crossword puzzle. Quit drinking now, and you could lead a normal life again.”

Luke wondered how many times the pastor had said that. “I’m going to try,” he promised.

“If you need help, just ask.” A young man who appeared to be mentally handicapped was persistently patting Lonegan’s arm, and he turned to him with a patient smile.

Luke spoke to Pete. “How long have you known me?”

“I don’t know. You been around a while.”

“Where did we spend the night before last?”

“Relax, will you? Your memory will come back sooner or later.”

“I have to find out where I’m from.”

Pete hesitated. “What we need is a beer,” he said. “Help us think straight.” He turned for the door.

Luke grabbed his arm. “I don’t want a beer,” he said decisively. Pete did not want him to dig into his past, it seemed. Perhaps he was afraid of losing a companion. Well, that was too bad. Luke had more important things to do than keep Pete company. “In fact,” he said, “I think I’d like to be alone for a while.”

“What are you, Greta Garbo?”

“I’m serious.”

“You need me to look out for you. You can’t make it on your own. Hell, you can’t even remember how old you are.”

Pete had a desperate look in his eyes, but Luke was unmoved. “I appreciate your concern, but you’re not helping me find out who I am.”

After a moment Pete shrugged. “You got a right.” He turned to the door again. “See you around, maybe.”

“Maybe.”

Pete went out. Luke shook Pastor Lonegan’s hand. “Thank you for everything,” he said.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” said the pastor.

Luke went up the stairs and out into the street. Pete was on the next block, speaking to a man in a green gabardine raincoat with a matching cap—begging the price of a beer, Luke guessed. He walked in the opposite direction and turned around the first corner.

It was still dark. Luke’s feet were cold, and he realized he was not wearing socks under his boots. As he hurried on, a light flurry of snow fell. After a few minutes, he eased his pace. He had no reason to rush. It made no difference whether he walked fast or slow. He stopped and took shelter in a doorway.

He had nowhere to go.

—Reprinted from Code To Zero by Ken Follett by permission of Signet, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2000, Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

can’t you see?”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 60 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(15)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(14)

2 Star

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(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 60 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2011

    Great page turner but not his best effort.

    As always Follett wraps suspense and intrigue around a histery/science lesson in a very enjoyable way. It requires suspence of reallity on the part of the reader, but if it didn't it woulndn't be fun! Just a bit too slow to start but once it got going it was great.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2003

    Good...but not as great as usual...

    This was a fun read...but not up to the usual thriller that Follett is known for...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    First Ken Follett book that I have read. Great discription of both the beginnings of the CIA and Americans entrance into the space race. Durning a time America was in a world war people were also taking sides on how they view freedom. Look forward too another great read by Ken Follett.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2006

    It was pretty good.

    Although Code to Zero wasn't super good, I was actually pretty sad that it had to end. At first, I thought this was going to be an extremely good book but then it started getting too obvious. I kind of figured out the ending already and the book also tends to stay too long on a certain point. Aside from that, I totally recommend this book to everyone else!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2003

    Code To Zero

    Luke woke up in a restroom stall in a downtown bus station. Dressed in rags and unable to recognize his own face in the mirror, Luke begins a long search for his own identity. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, the first United States satellite is due for launch in a matter of days.<br> Throughout the story, the setting takes periodic trips back in time to Luke¿s college days, where he went through trials with his best friend Anthony, met the love of his life Billie, and his future wife Elspeth. As the two very different time periods get closer, exciting and unexpected plot twists are revealed. As Luke slowly regains his consciousness while attempting to escape from some unfamiliar agents obsessed with his capture, he uncovers the truth behind the space race between the United States and USSR, and discovers the hidden agendas of his wife and best friend. In every chapter you can expect thrilling action sequences, sentimental love stories, or surprising plot twists. The author keeps you intrigued by making each chapter explain the previous chapter, until the eventual climax where everything is unmasked. Code to Zero leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to detailed analysis of the characters. Each character is described in detail with his or her own complete back-story, all of which are able to entertain and compel the reader into the story even more. <br> Over all, Code to Zero is a compelling drama mixed with some of the best detailed action sequences and convincing love scenes. Code to Zero is most definitely not for children under 17, but I strongly recommend to anyone interested in thrilling action titles or even the space program in general to check out this novel as soon as possible.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2000

    SUSPENSE IS HEIGHTENED BY ACCOMPLISHED READERS

    Espionage is at the core of this Cold War era thriller and the suspense sizzles. The time is 1958 when the space race was young and the Soviets seemed to be outdistancing the America. The protagonist is an inventive, complex study - he's Dr. Claude Lucas, an important cog in a new space launch. However, he's also a victim of amnesia, an apparent vagrant in Washington D.C.'s Union Station. Toss in the CIA, a covey of spies, and an old college buddy of Lucas's who is more foe than friend. Some might deem this a classic take on chased and chasers - not so. Thanks to the deft Mr. Follett, it's a no-holds-barred, riveting epic. And, so are the readings. Frank Muller, who has been featured on over 150 audiobooks, offers a splendid rendering of crisp, character driven dialogue in the two abridged versions on cassette and CD. While Obie award-winner George Guidall, an actor for 40 plus years, reads the unabridged version. He takes sinister and dramatic to their zenith.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2013

    I just read a review below and couldn't agree more. This book is

    I just read a review below and couldn't agree more. This book is a great page turner but definitely not Follett's best work. However,the writing is great, and Follett does a great job linking a storyline.

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  • Posted February 8, 2013

    A must read!

    Another fantastic book by Ken Follett and as always, he never fails to grab the reader! Code to Zero will keep you on edge and turning pages until the end! As with all books written by Ken Follett, it is metisculously researched and educational, though you never realize he is the educator! Get this page-turner now and see what you have been missing!

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  • Posted November 21, 2011

    Lots of action, and several appealing subplots, including romance.

    Follett has a lot of gifts as an author. Rarely does his work hold together as a near masterpiece like his other book Pillars on the Earth. Code to Zero is great, and it is one of the better Follett books that I have read. The plotting is tight, and everything that happens moves us towards the ultimate goal of the rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. There are lots of action, and several appealing subplots, including romance. Yet I was upset in the end. What Follett's strength is, that he writes the characters with great depth and his books are easy to read and follow. If you're a Follett fan you'll have read this book anyway, if you're not, and you're a picky reader you won't like this.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2011

    My first book by Ken Follett. Needs a better writing style!

    Usually, I don't read thrillers because they just happen to be the same thing over and over again, only with different characters with different names and different authors. This was no exception, as there have been so many spy-with-amnesia stories like Bourne Identity. Also, there could have been a better writing style, because Ken Follett uses language too simple, that it's not really too enjoyable. Jackdaws is not much better. I gave up after 90 pages on that one. So I'm not reading anything more by Ken Follett!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2009

    a page turner action book.

    It took a while to get hooked but then became a page turner. It is a good book to speed read. There was the right amount of characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2002

    Great Period Thriller

    Great development of characters from wartime college years through their cold war spy / space age careers. This was a good book, but not as good as the Third Twin.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2002

    One fantastic read

    This book was outstanding. I don't usually read spy novels, but this one leaves me wanting to read more. The pace is so fast, the pages smoke by in a blur. I didn't want it to end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2002

    Hard to Put Down

    Code To Zero will kept you on the edge of your set. Somewhat predictable, but a good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2002

    Follet Strikes Again

    I picked up this book second hand, after only recognizing the authors name from the book Pillars of the Earth(Which is Fantastic). It was easy enough to read and the story line keeps moving, so it is rather quick to get through. I would rate it a three and a half stars, if that were an option, but because it's Ken we are talking about I will go for four. The twists in the plot are somewhat predictable, but are nevertheless enjoyable. I would recommend this book because it is fun and short and a good start for those who like spy novels. I do however strongly recommend many other Follet novels, as he is a great contemporary writter.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2001

    Going downhill fast

    Follet's last two novels, The Third Twin and Code to Zero, are sad indications of how far Follet has fallen. It is as if he sold his name for use by a third rate novelist. I can't believe that these books were written by the same author that wrote Eye of the Needle and Pillars of the Earth, etc. Move on to some other author until he gets his act together.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2001

    Non-Stop Thriller Crossing Genres Is Flawed with Errors!

    Warning: Many people who start to read this book will not be able to put it down. As a result, you may miss some sleep unless you start reading early in the day. I stayed up until 2:17 a.m. to finish it. The story opens with an unforgettable scene. A man awakens on the floor of a men's rest room in Union Station in Washington, D.C. He has a terrible headache and no memory of who he is. He finds that he is dressed like a street person, and a man awakening in another part of the rest room tells him that he passed out from too much drink. The story evolves from there at solving three questions. First, who is he? Second, how did he lose his memory? Third, how can he avert the potential harm that led him to lose his memory? The story takes place primarily in 1958 as the United States was about to launch its first satellite, Explorer I. Flashbacks take the action back as far as 1941, when many of the characters were students together at Harvard University. When people ask me about a novel, there are a certain set of predictable questions that I get. As I thought about this book, I realized that it had something for almost everyone. My wife always asks me if it's a love story. Well, this one certainly qualifies as it builds the emotional relationships between two of the leading characters over 27 years. The next question is whether it is a fast read or not. This one also qualifies, because you are pulled along by the action. After that, someone always asks me if the story is like any other stories they might have read. Well, this one has echoes of The Manchurian Candidate (about mind control and induced memory loss), the best Cold War spy novels of Le Carre (with agents, double agents, and double crosses), the unrelenting action of The Day of the Jackel (charging from one crisis to another), and many elements from Love Story (irresistible attraction being overcome by events). I find that the truly successful and popular novels always add some important factual knowledge for the reader, that forever changes the reader's perception of the world. This book contains many wonderful details about the technology behind Explorer I that I would have loved to have known before. You will find these gems in a brief paragraph that precedes each little section in the book (divisions in time are denoted this way). It also is mind-opening in its development of the problem how someone would find out who they are if they lost their memory and had no resources. So why didn't I say that this book was a five star or higher book? Well, it suffers from very poor editing and proofreading. Every few pages, there is an appalling mistake that takes you completely out of the story while you focus on the mistake. Let me give you a few examples that most people would have caught. (1) The epilogue talks about Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and proudly proclaims that the year is 1968 in large bold type at the top of the page. Oops! Can people so soon have forgotten that it was 1969? Very sloppy. (2) The story makes a great fuss about how one of the characters will get into a house in Alabama. Then, another character mysteriously has a key when you would expect that t

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2001

    Starts Off Strong But Suspense Not Sustained!

    Without going into the details of the plot, Follet's latest thriller has an exciting beginning and has interesting and well-developed characters. Overall, Code To Zero is a fast and enjoyable 'read'. However, its suspense gradually wanes and the so-called 'surprises' and eventual outcome become somewhat predictable. Further, you might feel that you have to suspend belief more than you are willing to in regards to the ease with which the main character: 1) discovers who he is and what he does after learning he has amnesia; and 2) uncovers the plot to sabotage the U.S.'s launching of its Explorer I satellite. Code To Zero, despite its limitations, is worth reading but I'd suggest you take it from the library. There are better books on which to plunk down $26.95.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2001

    What DRIVEL ! ! !

    While the plot is somewhat implausible and time-worn¿amnesia: how original¿it is the style and characters that are ridiculous! The syntax and dialogue make this book a drudgery. It appears to have been writter by a ghostwriting 3rd grader! The moronic characters and their naive behavior bring this author to a new LOW. While Follett's plots are usually pretty good, his dialogue has always needed improvement. Bur he has reached the bottom of his craft with this one. I would give it 0 stars if possible.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2001

    Hammer of Eden vs Code to Zero

    Hammer of Eden was the first book i read from Ken. I've seen some people say that they were very disappointed with H. of E. I want to know if anyone could tell me if Code to Zero is any better than H of E. If it is better or as good, I think it should be worth a try.

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