Top positive review
Its Been a Lange Time Coming
on 21 February 2014
Switch on TV over the holiday season and you will eventually stumble across a show about celebrities before they were famous. Sit back and watch Hollywood Royalty gurn on an advert or appear in an early episode of ‘Grange Hill’. Working before you hit the limelight does not happen solely to actors; authors often had a life before they put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). Indeed, the likes of Stephen King, Jack Higgins and many others had a prolific career under a nom de plume. Michael Crichton is another such author and after his untimely death 1998 we will be unlikely to see any new works by him. Thankfully, the publisher Titan Books has gone back to his earlier days under the name John Lange to re-release some of his hardboiled crime fiction.
When a train is ransacked it takes a while for anyone to fully realise the implications of what went missing. Two canisters are gone; alone they are harmless, but when the two gases are mixed, they create a nerve agent that could wipe out millions. John Graves works as a federal agent who uncovers a sinister plot to wipe out everything that America holds dear. The clocks ticking, can he save the day?
Originally released in 1972, ‘Binary’ is a great example of a later pulp novel. Crichton proved during his career, with the likes of ‘Jurassic Park’, that he was an author of imagination, but people forget that he was an excellent thriller writer too. The reason that so many of his fantastical novels captured an audience was because they were built upon great thrills. ‘Binary’ is Crichton stripped back to his very basic. A simple terrorist plot, the book is broken down into hour long slots as time runs out. This device really adds to the tension and out 24s ‘24’ years before that show was even made.
There is no denying that this is quite a simple tale. The character of Lange is seemingly complex, but for all his intelligence, he is really just a maverick cop with a chip on his shoulder. There is also an extreme lack of female characters. The risqué cover on this new edition suggests that at least one female will play a decent role; instead there are no women at all until page 50 and not much after that.
A book like ‘Binary’ is not meant to be read as a cerebral discussion on women’s role in 70s America, but pulp thrills. It is here that the book works because Crichton is such a good writer. Lange is a computer expert and seeing as the 70s equivalent of a PC is about as powerful as that found in a modern toaster, the book could really fall down here. However, although the technology is very dated, the quality of writing is not. Crichton is able to keep even the modern reader engaged with pacy writing and simple explanations that do not bore.
If I had to file ‘Binary’ away, it would be under guilty pleasures. However, in the world of guilty pleasures it is of a very high quality. The story works and in some senses pre-empts our modern worries about terrorism. The lack of a female perspective in the book is a shame and the narrative is a little simple in places, but I for one read through it very quickly and with great enjoyment. Originally reviewed on bookbag.co.uk