Code to Zero by Ken Follett

This was our latest American History Club book. I was looking for a book about the space race between the U.S. and Russia, and it was harder to find than I thought. Even though this was a bit longer than I typically choose for American History Club, the topic seemed to fit the bill.

Published: 2000

Genre: historical thriller

Length: 356 pages

Setting: 1958, Washington and Cape Canaveral, and 1945, Cambridge

Summary: Luke, our narrator, wakes up one morning in a public toilet with no memory of who he is. He looks like a drunken bum, and needs to piece together clues to figure out his personal history. It turns out, he’s being followed by members of a CIA team controlled by Anthony, a CIA agent. Luke is able to shake his tail, making Anthony frantic, and piece together some of his history. He is a rocket engineer working on the team sending the first American satellite into space tomorrow. For some reason, he left his team and flew into Washington on the eve of the rocket’s launch. Luke retraces his steps, trying to figure out what he was doing in Washington, with Anthony following and trying to anticipate his steps to kill him. Luke is helped by some old college friends, Bernie and Billie. Luke finally pieces together the facts that Anthony and his wife, Elspeth, are Soviet agents, trying to destroy the rocket and the hopes of the American space program. It comes down to the wire, but the rocket launch is successful.

Final thoughts: A highly enjoyable book, but perhaps a bit more adult than I usually assign for the 13-year old boys in American History Club. (There was a fair amount of swearing and some mild sex scenes.) Even so, both of the boys loved the non-stop action. I agree that the book was pretty exciting – will Luke get his memory back? Will he be able to outwit Anthony? What is Anthony’s problem with Luke, anyways? Even once Luke figures out Anthony and Elspeth are Soviet agents, there’s still quite a bit of tension over whether or not they’ll be able to trigger the self-destruct mechanism on the rocket or not.

One of the interesting components of the story was Luke’s memory loss and the rediscovery of his relationships. He did remember all of his skills, which is how he was able to narrow down his job title. Since he’s coming fresh to the relationships, he basically got to make a new choice of how to interact with everyone. Luke realized he’d made some poor choices in the past and was sure to make different choices this time around. Good thing his wife was a Soviet spy, or there were going to be some very difficult discussions about who he wanted to spend the rest of his days with (hat tip – not his wife).

One last thing of note was each chapter had an epigraph containing some bit of information about the rocket being launched. So, it totally fit the American History Club topic of space race and learning something about the early rockets.

Title comes from: Not sure where the code part of the title comes from, but the to zero probably referred to the countdown to blast-off for the rocket.

Reading challenges fulfilled: book #32 for the year

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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