ScienceThrillers review: Easy Go is a new ebook release of a thriller written in 1968 by the late great Michael Crichton under the pseudonym John Lange. Easy Go is part of a series of ten ebook releases billed as "the Med School Years" written by Crichton under the Lange name as well as the names Jeffrey Hudson and Michael Douglas.
People often speak of an author's "first book." Usually they mean the first book written by the author that became well-known, more appropriately called the author's breakout novel. For Crichton, that book was The Andromeda Strain, published in 1969. But it was by no means his first book. Skilled novelists aren't made in a day, nor with rare exceptions do they reach high levels of skill on their first attempt. The true "first book" is a slippery concept: the first book for which the author writes through to an ending; the first full revision of a book; the first book she thinks is good enough to publish. Unless the author later reaches the heights of fame that Michael Crichton did, those early efforts are (deservedly) left in obscurity.
But we're talking about Michael Crichton here; everything he touched turns to gold, even his last novel Micro, written after he died by Richard Preston using notes Crichton left behind. Micro, an inferior work on many levels, was a bestseller. Thus it was inevitable that someone would bring out any other Crichton material in ebook form.
Easy Go is one of these books and it is surprisingly not bad. Crichton's gift for plotting is evident, as well as his remarkable ability to tell stories that do not feel dated even decades later. I could easily see Easy Go adapted into a movie screenplay. It has a classic heist story format, beginning with an idea for an audacious theft of Egyptian antiquities from an unopened tomb. A team of smart, colorful opportunists is assembled to pull it off. The stakes are high: life in an Egyptian prison, or even execution if they are caught. The settings are global and exotic.
But Easy Go is like a pencil sketch study of an oil painter's masterpiece. All the elements are there, but it feels rough. This novel reads like a decent/average indie/self-published thriller: nothing wrong with it but not a model of the genre, either. "John Lange" fails to establish the protagonist as soon and as soundly as he should. He is not entirely in control of point of view. In Crichton style he stuffs the book with fascinating information (primarily about Egypt and Egyptology) but it sometimes feels like showing off, or reading a travelogue. The book is more sexist than Michael Crichton's work. In a way that is impossible for me to pin down, Easy Go simply doesn't grab the reader the way Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Terminal Man, Jurassic Park do.
Like other heist stories (Ocean's Eleven, The Sting), Easy Go sets up a twist at the end. John Lange, plot master, delivers. Readers could do a lot worse than spend an afternoon reading this high-concept thriller by the young Michael Crichton.