THE LUCIFER KEY by Malcolm MacPherson


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Another above-average suspense/melodrama from the author of ProtÉgÉ (1980), deriving much of its intermittent distinction from computer lore and an unusually evocative sense of the Boston locale. Computer prodigy Stark Rousseau, 25, is invited to a panel discussion at MIT, where weaknesses in America's computer network are to be surveyed, and where--confronted by an Army general in charge of computer security--Rousseau sits down at a computer and improvises part of a formula that penetrates the most guarded secrets of the Pentagon, the securities exchanges, etc. . . . and is capable of altering information on everything in all computer banks using the five geo-stationary satellite relays stationed in space! Understandably upset, the general wants some kind of restraints put on Rousseau, at least until the genius can provide new safeguards and new satellites can be lofted into place. But the very next day computer nightmares and schemings begin: an anticomputer group, using its own formula, drives the Stock Exchange's computerized boards berserk; slimy multimillionaire Clint Hennessy sees a computer-related opportunity to take over a huge aerospace firm that clearly will be getting the MX contract; the KGB is interested too, with its agents hopping about Cambridge, trying to bring American computer tech down to Soviet level (they've been ordered to find the formula and subvert our relays); and a corporation head tries to extort the formula from Rousseau for the safe return of new girlfriend Merrill. The climax is disappointingly conventional racing-about--with bodies dropping while Stark tries to outwit the Russians, who don't know that in subverting the relays they may actually fire off our ICBMs and send them in a crazy directionless scramble. But, as in ProtÉgÉ, MacPherson's rather foolish plotting is pretty well compensated for by the nifty talk, the likable characters, the vivid backgrounds--plus, here, the intriguing if less-than-believable computer scenarios.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Dutton