REVIEW SUMMARY: Ghost Country is 24 for science fiction fans. Y’know, when 24 was good.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Travis Chase must rescue Paige Campbell who was kidnapped when she learned via alien technology that the world will be a vast wasteland in seventy years.
PROS: Relentless action; engaging plot-driven story; good use of alien technology; perfectly paced.
CONS: Author’s tendency to specify exact durations was distracting.
BOTTOM LINE: Patrick Lee’s The Breach was one of last year’s best reads and the sequel, Ghost Country, is every bit as exciting.
The premise of Patrick Lee’s Travis Chase novels is eloquently simple: a secret government organization called Tangent guards and studies the Breach, a doorway to another world that emits mysterious artifacts called entities whose purposes are unknown. In Ghost Country, one of its Tangent’s operatives, Paige Campbell, uses one of the entities to see 70 years into our future and finds a dead world. When she and her colleagues try to make it known to her superiors, they are attacked and only Paige survives. Travis Chase, the ex-cop who worked with Tangent in the previous novel, tries to rescue the kidnapped Paige despite the terrible secret he learned that has kept him away from Tangent for fear that secret will become reality.
What follows this brief setup is a whirlwind of an adventure that is essentially the television series 24 written for science fiction fans. While we do get to learn a little bit about the characters, Ghost Country is essentially plot-driven. There is a definite sense of urgency as Travis and Bethany, Paige’s trusted assistant, figure out a way to rescue the kidnapped Paige. Where this novel trumps Jack Bauer (besides its lack of cougars) is that it effectively adds cool sf tropes to the mix; and not just for the sake of using them. Here, the other-worldly technology is used to good effect. Now mix that with tense, high-speed action, throw in a dash of conspiracy, suspense, mystery and fast-moving prose, and you have a novel that this reader found genuinely hard to put down.
Of course, being in reviewer mode, I do look for elements of the reading experience that keep it from being perfect. I found one: the author’s tendency to frequently specify exact time durations. For example, silence in a conversation that lasts “for three minutes”, or characters would stare at something for “exactly two minutes”. The specificity was distracting…and just odd. Try pausing in the middle of a conversation for a full sixty seconds. Awkward! Better would have been to use less-distracting invisible phrases like “a few moments” or “awhile”. Even though it’s a minor nit, it was a noticeable one.
Ultimately, Ghost Country is a non-stop thrill ride that had me eagerly turning its pages and offered a near-perfect reading experience. The premise for Lee’s universe may be simple, but it’s elegant, too, and can easily be a generator for more exciting, new stories. I can’t wait.