Review: “The Hammer of Eden,” Ken Follett

Pros: Surprisingly engrossing bad guys
Cons: Predictable
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Priest and Star just want to remain in their commune/winery. Unfortunately, they’re being evicted from their leased land by a government that wants to build power stations. Priest, who has a very shady history, decides the way to save his home is by forcing the Governor to put a freeze on all power station projects. To that end, he creates a fake organization called the Hammer of Eden, and threatens to create an earthquake if he doesn’t get what he wants. Thanks to the knowledge and interests of some of his neighbors at the commune, he’s pretty sure he can accomplish this–as long as he steals some specialized equipment and some technical data. Then he just has to avoid capture and keep his little band of idealists together–even though what he has planned could kill thousands of people.

 

Ken Follett’s The Hammer of Eden is a fairly straightforward story in which the FBI goes up against some rather unconventional terrorists who are using an unexpected and unlikely threat to try to achieve their goals. I was never quite sure how Priest’s plan was supposed to work, mind you–his idea was that the moment the project was put on hold they’d be allowed to stay at their winery/commune. Given the rate at which government bureaucracy moves, however, I’d think that getting their eviction from their leased land reversed would take more than that. (They were literally running up against their deadline to leave by the end.) So I have some doubts that there was really any point to his plans in the first place, but oh well.

I found Priest to be a fascinating character. He had lots of depth, and it was easy to get wrapped up in what he was doing, even if you didn’t want him to succeed. That’s really tough for a writer to accomplish. I also found Star, one of his accomplices, to have some nice nuance to her. Unfortunately Follett didn’t accomplish the same with the rest of his characters–most strikingly, his FBI good guys. The good-guy-bad-guys (i.e., the higher-ups at the FBI who inevitably try to screw with Judy, the main ‘good guy’ FBI character) are incredibly one-dimensional, stupid, and nasty; there’s no hint of the abilities or judgment that got them to where they were. Priest was well-drawn enough that other flat characters stand out. As for Judy, well, she was interesting I guess, but she didn’t engage me as much as Priest did. Nor did her romantic interest, a rather rude seismologist.

The earthquake plan kept things somewhat fresh and interesting and injected unusual obstacles into the plot. However, all of those twists and turns played out in a very predictable fashion. I never felt much doubt, surprise, or tension as to what might ultimately happen–the thriller didn’t entirely thrill me.

All in all this could be an interesting beach read if it’s the sort of story you’re in the mood for, but it isn’t great.

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