Thursday, February 9, 2023

Review: Zero Cool

Zero Cool Zero Cool by John Lange
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zero Cool, first published in 1969, is another of Michael Crichton's early John Lange novels. This was reprinted by Hard Case Crime initially under the John Lange pseudonym. Its cool x-ray looking cover is shown with this review. (The original Signet paperback from 1969 has a lame photo cover). Hard Case later editions have Michael Crichton's name in large letters on top with a "writing as John Lange" by line below in much smaller letters. Crichton apparently revised this novel for the Hard Case Crime edition. Not sure how much was done to the body of the book, but the framing "Video Interview" prologue and epilogue he added seem completely unnecessary. The other somewhat humorous thing to note from the copyright page is that Crichton trademarked Zero Cool. Perhaps planning a movie treatment? Or a branded whats-it? Who knows. The novel itself is just so-so. The plot is intricate and constantly twisting and there is action scene after action scene and it's all quite cinematic. Unfortunately, at least to my reading taste, more than half the book consists of ridiculous dialogue that barely advances the plot. Crichton—like Carter Brown—spends five pages attempting witty repartee to impart maybe three sentences of information that moves the story along. He repeats this technique over an over throughout the novel. Plenty of colorful villains in the James Bond mold, although a bit cartoonish. Plenty of exotic settings, but they are thinly rendered. The plot? A radiologist on vacation in Spain is suddenly sucked into a Maltese Falcon-esque struggle between a bunch of criminals all trying to find a whats-it. I won't spoil the read by divulging more because then the first two thirds of the book are less compelling. The plot driver, and what keeps the pages turning, is that the radiologist protagonist doesn't know what is going on, so we get to follow along as he is batted about like a ping-pong ball between rival gangs. What is going on? Who is who? Will he survive? If you can can put up with the dialogue, or speed read it as I did, the plot will drag you along to the, finally, fast-paced and climactic ending.

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