Disappointing debut thriller sends scientists, the FBI and a hired killer scrambling for Einstein’s last, unpublished theory.
Alpert works from a Hitchcock template that promises a breathtaking cross-country chase in the tradition of Saboteur and North by Northwest. The story takes off when David Swift, a professor and science writer, learns from a dying physicist the details of a theory Einstein left unpublished. Put into action, this “final theory” could lead to the destruction of the universe. A man who knows too much, Swift finds his life imperiled. Terrorists want to know what Swift knows, as does the U.S. government, who sic the FBI on him. Dodging the Bureau boys and their tactics, which equal the Gestapo’s in violence and treachery, Swift heads to Princeton to uncover the full details of Einstein’s theory. There he teams with a former girlfriend and soon they’re off to Carnegie Tech, the hills of Western Pennsylvania, then to West Virginia and Georgia. Alpert sets a brisk pace and laces his lean prose with refreshing wit. Blowsy FBI agent Lucille Parker, a Texan who shoots from the hip, will make a great part for an actress of a certain age and girth should the book ever become a movie. But prospective movie sales may have led the author to the letdown that comes in the book’s second half. After sketching out promising characters and relationships, Alpert, it seems, aims for action-movie fans. As Armageddon draws nigh, he brings on the Delta Force, helicopters and all, for a series of sober, over-the-top action scenes. Alpert’s plotting, meanwhile, turns facile. In particular, he undermines suspense by almost never letting anyone get cornered without a quick escape readily at hand.
Hard-action fans may turn the pages, but others will sense a missed opportunity, especially after the sharp first half.