Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: The Doomsday Key

The Doomsday Key
By James Rollins

First published: 2009
Series: Sigma Force #6

Read: 4 - 12 June 2011
Pages: 526
Challenges: Mystery & Suspense Challenge #6

From the cover

At Princeton University, a famed geneticist dies inside a biohazard lab. In Rome, a Vatican archaeologist is found dead in St. Peter's Basilica. In Africa, a U.S. senator's son is slain outside a Red Cross camp.

Three murder victims on three continents, linked by a pagan Druidic cross burned into their flesh.

Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force have only days to solve an apocalyptic puzzle dating back centuries. Aided by two women from his past—one his ex-lover, the other his new partner—Gray must uncover a horrifying secret that threatens America and the world, even if it means sacrificing the life of one of the women at his side. The race is on—from the Roman Coliseum to the icy peaks of Norway to the lost tombs of Celtic kings—and the future hangs in the balance. For humankind's ultimate nightmare is locked within a talisman buried by a dead saint—an ancient artifact known as . . . The Doomsday Key.

My thoughts

Ever since I read Map of Bones a few years back, James Rollins has been my go-to guy for scientific thrillers. His books are always current, well-researched and suspenseful, and the sixth installment of the Sigma Force series is no exception.

I won't say too much about the story because I don't want to spoil anything for you, but like a proper thriller should, it includes explosions, gun fights, burning peat bogs, stormy weather, and ponies. And of course many of the elements are based on facts. "Everything in this book is true, except for what's not," Rollins appropriately states in a note at the end of the book. The notion that at least some of the events described could happen in real life is more than a little unsettling. I do like an action thriller that actually makes you think.

I have been a fan of the series' main character, Commander Grey Pierce, since the first book I read. Grey is a good guy, smart and capable, although a little wooden in this particular book. Another character who has become a favourite of mine is Joe Kowalski. His main purpose is obviously to serve as comic relief (which he does well), but it turns out he can be quite endearing when he wants to be. I couldn't help picturing Adam Baldwin delivering his deadpan lines every time Kowalski spoke. If ever this series make it to the big screen, Baldwin would be the perfect choice.

There is a sort of love triangle involving Grey and two prominent women in his life (one of whom is really intriguing, the other not so much), but it didn't really lead to anything with either of them except a minor cliffhanger (hillhanger?) at the end of the book which I frankly could take or leave.

Being Norwegian I was especially excited to see that parts of the book took place in Norway; Oslo and Svalbard respectively. Now, I've never been to Svalbard so I can't comment on that (I remember the Seed Vault being a big deal on the news here when it was opened), but the bits from Oslo were accurately described; from the cruise ship anchored by Akershus Castle to the main street and the dreary October weather (and they blow up the Grand Hotel! Hilarious!). It's not often Norway is a setting in a thriller not written by a Norwegian author (and there aren't that many of those around either), so that was fun to see.

One word of warning: If you're new to the Sigma Force series, you should probably start with one of the earlier books to fully understand some important story arcs and character background, unless you don't mind spoilers.

My rating:
The Sigma Force Series
  1. Sandstorm (2004)
  2. Map of Bones (2005)
  3. Black Order (2006)
  4. The Judas Strain (2007)
  5. The Last Oracle (2008)
  6. The Doomsday Key (2009)
  7. The Skeleton Key (short story exclusive) (2011)
  8. The Devil Colony (2011)

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