472 pages, Ebury Press
Published in the US as Black Sun, by Dell
Review by Pat Black
Doomsday is the sequel to a novel I reviewed a year or so ago, The Mayan Conspiracy. A mixture of Dan Brown, Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy, it was a serviceable enough adventure story following a group of secret service operatives and scientists trailing a mystery energy source into an ancient Mayan pyramid in the Brazilian jungle. It had baddies chasing them, lots of gunplay, nasty natives and – star prize - monsters.
Here’s the sequel, then, featuring the surviving characters – led by Hawker, the mysterious pilot-cum-mercenary with a past, Danielle Laidlaw, the secret service action girl, and Professor Michael McCarter, eh, the science guy.
This story picks up a couple of years after the group’s jungle japes, as the Mayan Clock ticks down to December 21, 2012, when of course the world ends, or something.
Fresh from having recovered an ancient stone in the Mayan pyramid, which emits a previously unknown type of energy, Laidlaw and McCarter are on the search for the three other stones referred to in an ancient prophecy. Hawker, burned by the CIA despite his services for Uncle Sam in the last novel, is off saving remote communities in the Congo – until a call to rescue his former buddy Laidlaw puts him back into the thick of things.
The Russians and the Chinese are after these energy stones, too – the Chinese, led by Bond villain billionaire Kang, and the Russians, helmed by Ivan Saravich, ex-KGB true believer and now-disillusioned capitalist. Dig out the black hats, here’s the bad guys!
On top of the villains, there’s a strange Russian child, named Yuri, who may yet hold the key to the whole mystery.
The first thing to say is that this is a far superior book to the first story, which had the feeling of a first act that was extended to book-length, leaving itself a little threadbare in the process. Doomsday is a much leaner beast in comparison, covering around four times as much ground in what seemed like half the time. It never feels laboured, nor does it linger in one spot for too long. The thrills include a shoot-out in Mexico, a daredevil rescue in a Hong Kong skyscraper, an encounter with sharks during an underwater sequence in the Gulf of Mexico, a helicopter shootout in the Mexican wilderness featuring a baddie in a reinforced exoskeleton and a tense stand-off beneath the Yucca plains in the US.
Brown keeps his plates spinning well, taking a break from the pyrotechnics involving Hawker and Danielle to cover a no-less-fascinating stand-off between Laidlaw’s boss, Arnold Moore, and Stecker, his poison apple nemesis from the CIA. As the energy given off in incrementally increasing bursts by the ancient stones takes out spy satellites and darken cities, foreign powers begin to get suspicious of each other. Nuclear warheads are primed, and as Hawker and Laidlaw race to find the secret of the stones it appears that the Mayan doomsday prediction might be right on the money.
It’s a fine adventure story with stirring conflicts and a great big pay-off – something its predecessor lacked – but there are other, intriguing aspects. In unexpected ways, Doomsday examines the nature of faith, whether that’s in a religion, a political system, your duty to your job or even your commitment to a partner. Brown references Macbeth, as the main protagonists head towards a commitment which could either save the world or destroy it, based on nothing more than a gut feeling. Would Macbeth have wielded the dagger anyway, had the witches just kept their mouths shut? It’s a question that continues to intrigue us. Prophecy and predestination are a key part of the secret of the stones, and these notions themselves are examined as a powerful fantasy which can either spur people on to success (“I was born to do this… this is my destiny,”)… or to goad or manipulate people into doing things (“Your father would be proud of you… I always knew you were a failure”). It was a key component of the book, and an unexpected source of depth.
I read this one on the beach, and it was well suited to the location. Shall we hear more from Hawker, Danielle and McCarter? Aye, why not?