Friday means Friday’s Forgotten Books. Make sure you check out the list over at Patti’s blog after you read Barry Ergang’s review of Reaper by Ben Mezrich. Mr. Mezrich is the author of fifteen books. A number of his recent releases are nonfiction including the release earlier this month, The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO Highway.
REAPER (1998) by Ben Mezrich
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
When nine attorneys seated around a conference table simultaneously succumb to a bizarre, excruciating virus, readers are off to the promising start of a thriller. Readers eventually learn that several other apparently isolated incidents occur involving disparate victims, each of whom has either a computer or television prior to the Big Turn-On. This is Telecon Industries’ major event, which will occur in a few days, affecting nearly the entire country, because Telecon has provided everyone who wanted one a free set-top box for it.
Probing these events is virologist Dr. Samantha Craig, who works for the government. Dr. Nick Barnes, a former surgeon turned paramedic because of an accident that damaged his right hand, was among the first to see the bodies of the attorneys, and manages to inveigle himself into the investigation.
The other principal characters are the billionaire founder of Telecon, Marcus Teal; Melora Parkridge, Telecon’s director of research and development and a woman with an agenda of her own who has ties to a mysterious organization known as Pandora; and software engineer Ned Dickerson, Parkridge’s assistant, who seems to be coming apart physically and mentally.
As I suggested earlier, this 407-page novel (in the paperback edition) starts out promisingly—but it quickly devolves into sluggishness, tedium, and predictability. A medical and scientific thriller, its discussions about the nature of viruses and computer technologies, though meant to be understood by average readers, seemed abstract and often impenetrable—at least, to this reader—and slowed the pace to a slog. Cover blurbs from reviews from People and Kirkus compare the author to Michael Crichton and Robin Cook. I’ve read exactly one novel by Cook, but it was so long ago I remember nothing about it. I’ve read my share of Crichton’s work, including much of it written under his own name and the pseudonyms John Lange and Jeffrey Hudson, and technical discussions in those, as I recall, moved more swiftly and were far more comprehensible than those in Reaper.
Every one of the aforementioned major characters has emotional baggage from the past that predictably affects him or her in the present. Barnes and Craig have on-again off-again feelings toward one another, but only the most naïve reader can think that this won’t turn out to be a love match or that a coupling won’t ensue.
If it sounds like a typical Hollywood (I accidentally typed Hollywoof, and that is appropriate, too) opus, stick around for some of the climactic moments. Among these are chase scenes wherein author Mezrich indulges in needless descriptive passages of dioramas in the Smithsonian Museum of American History while Barnes pursues someone in control of the deadly Reaper virus. I’m sure the author thought these cloggish interludes would heighten suspense, but all they really do is heighten reader irritation and impatience to get on with the crux of the story so it’ll end and we can move on to better-wrought fictions.
There are at least two more Hollywoof (with apologies to my own little dog Duncan and other canine savants) moments to comment on. One involves one of those improbabilities too many movies are fond of, in which a villain seems to be defeated but still manages another miraculous appearance. The other is the “shock” ending, which here comes in the novel’s last sentence.
I, for one, yawned and appreciated that it was the last sentence.
The back cover of the paperback says, “Soon to be a major TBS made-for-TV movie.” I looked it up—you can find it here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0171689/—and it appears that the filmed version took considerable liberties with the novel, and not necessarily as an improvement.
I genuinely hate writing negative reviews like this one because it means I’ve had to waste my time reading a book not worth my time or, to my way of thinking, anyone else’s. In this specific case, it was a turkey not even pardonable by the president on Thanksgiving.
© 2016 Barry Ergang