In Sandom’s doomsday thriller, a cryptanalyst and an oceanographer combine forces in an attempt to thwart a terrorist plan to inundate the eastern seaboard of the United States.
â€œWhat you need is something to make the Americans veer away from peace. Something abominable,” says jihadist El Aqrab, who has something abominable in mind: a mega-tsunami sweeping west across the Atlantic, generated by the aftereffects of his very own nuclear detonation. El Aqrab is a mean and devious dude; though he â€œdestroys with an aesthetic sensibility,” as a Mossad agent notes, he is a pure force of darkness. Just so, he is in keeping with most of Sandom’s other characters: very bad, like El Aqrab, or very good, like code-breaker Decker (â€œthe gentle features of a poet”), or good and gorgeous, like grad-student Swenson (â€œTo be intelligent and to look like this? It was a fucking outrage.”). His characterization drifts into caricature, as stark and unambiguous as advertising copy. Sandom’s strength lies in the verve of his story, with writing that has both muscle, in its pacing and violence, and a measure of brains as it goes about knitting Islamic calligraphy into the action, as well as making skirmishes into cryptography, vulcan stimulation and the higher physics of radiation and isotope decay without force-feeding the dense material to the reader. Instances of sloppiness–actually, so sloppy they seem to have a hidden agenda: â€œYung” for Jung, â€œYounkers” for Yonkers, â€œCollege Way” for Columbia University’s College Walk–are simply steamrolled by the tale’s gathering momentum. After a rather stately start, punctuated by little flurries of menace and barbarism from the stock bad guys, and a critical massing of feints and distractions, the story races from improbable to crazywild, all in good fun, with Sandom always one step ahead–and who cares if you can’t tell a â€œtemperature-compensated quartz oscillator pressure transducer” from a toaster oven?
A story with enough manic energy to be worthy of a nuclear explosion and enough to render moot any structural weaknesses in its architecture.