The Babel Effect

Daniel Hecht, Author Crown Publishers $23 (448p) ISBN 978-0-609-60729-9
Is the propensity to violence a kind of virus? That's the intriguing question addressed by this engrossing thriller, in which a research team's investigation of man's inhumanity to man leads to a modern-day Heart of Darkness climax. The Joseph Conrad echo is deliberateDcrucial scenes in the novel take place in the CongoDbut the science is pure 21st century. Ryan McCloud and his African-American wife, Jessamine, are participants in a think tank near Boston when they accept funding from a company called Ridder Global to search out the causes of modern evil. Some members of their team focus on genetics, others on high-tech contamination, but Jess is fascinated with the viral angle, christening it the Babel Effect, after a term used by a televangelist she finds curiously compelling. Ryan, meanwhile, worries that a personal agenda is clouding Jess's judgmentDher sister Allison was killed by terrorists at GhizaDbut he has to believe that Jess is on the right track when he returns from a harrowing trip to the Congo to discover that she's been kidnapped. Hecht (Skull Session) keeps the science subordinate to the characters and the suspense, which is no mean feat considering that most of the novel's midsection has Ryan retracing Jess's research steps in order to find out what she was working on. The writing is clear and concise, and while there will be the usual Crichton comparisons, they rebound to Hecht's credit, for Hecht has his own voice and agenda. The moving climax proves that Hecht is a writer with both skill and soul. This suspenser is for readers who demand texture, intriguing information and a provocative thesis along with their thrills. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
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