Title: China Lake
Author: Meg Gardiner
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2002)
A young American sci-fi author and part time lawyer, Evan Delaney, is looking after her six year old nephew while her brother is posted to sea as a Navy pilot. The boy’s mother, who disappeared some months before the book starts, reappears in all their lives as a member of an extreme religious cult known as The Remnant. The cult soon moves from picketing the funerals of AIDS sufferers to more deadly pursuits and Evan’s family and friends all get caught up in the mayhem.
Peter Wyoming didn’t shake hands with people; he hit them with his presence like a rock fired from a slingshot. He was a human nail, lean and straight with brush-cut hair, and when I first saw him he was carrying a picket sign and enough rage to scorch the ground.
Those lines hinted, to me, that a ripper yarn might follow. Alas, it was not, quite, to be.
Although it had potential the book missed the marks that would have made it a great thriller for me. Along with the religious cult there’s action aplenty (although quite a bit of filler too), conspiracy theories and a rejected high school crush that turns to adulthood revenge-seeking on a large scale. There are even rabid animals and impossibly cute children in peril but none of it is particularly innovative. And I am heartily sick of thrillers that portray the police/authorities collectively as either utterly incompetent knuckle-dragging morons or awesomely invincible supermen. For the record this book chose the first option but as I find both equally unconvincing the other would have been just as annoying.
Once again, because this book lacked any compelling characters, I found myself being pernickety about things like obscure words used to show-off the author’s abilities with a dictionary and scenes that adding nothing but length. And these characters were just not interesting to me. The religious zealots were so over-the-top as to be laughable rather than scary. If you want terrifying religious nutters watch Louis Theroux’s 2007 documentary The Most Hated Family in America (about the people behind the military-funeral picketing Westboro Baptist “Church”) which sends chills down my spine precisely because the zealots are frighteningly normal rather than the caricatures that Gardiner has created. And the good guys aren’t a heck of a lot better here. Our heroine is frustratingly inconsistent (she believes the church members capable of starting a major biological war but not, apparently, of having enough skills to find out her boyfriend’s surname for example) and her brother is arrogant and seemingly incapable of having a coherent thought. Only Jesse, Evan’s boyfriend, seems well-rounded and believable in the context of the book but as he gets most of the daftest lines and plot devices I’m not even that fond of him.
In the end the plot had all the elements a thriller should have but they weren’t tied together well and without any great characters it was just a standard hero-saves-the-world-in-the-nick-of-time-and-despite-the-plodding-authorities book.
My rating 2.5/5