This sophomore effort by Richard Cox is an imaginative, kinetically-paced thriller that manges to stumble a bit over its own feet. Cox strives to marry bleeding-edge technology, modern particle theory, and a criminal conspiracy with the search for universal intelligence and the desire for immortality; unfortunately, his narrative suffers largely because of simple things like plotting and pacing.
An American businessman named Steve Keeley is in Switzerland for—you guessed it—business. He’s the sort of single-minded corporate climber who has a written plan for his entire life. When an accidental cell phone call alerts him to his girlfriend’s infidelity, Steve’s ego is shattered. After wandering the streets of Zurich for a while he ends up in a bar; he subsequently ends up with a girl named Anna. Steve’s “I’m hurt and want revenge” sexual encounter ends badly, however, as he is hurled out a window by a mysterious assailant, and he lands in a crumpled heap on the cobblestone streets three stories below.
When Steve wakes up, he’s in a hospital bed. His memories are blurry, and he’s only alive as a result of a series of nearly miraculous surgeries. More, his sense of his surroundings seems to have altered: for some reason, he believes he might be able to levitate off the bed if he wanted, and he seems to be hearing echoes of the thoughts of those around him. Not to mention the fact that the woman who returned his $20,000 diamond engagement ring seemingly died before she could have slipped the box into his coat pocket or helped him to the hospital.
Around the world at a $12 billion super-collider facility in North Texas, physicist Mike McNair works to actually identify the Higgs field and discover the so-called “God particle” that may well illuminate greater understanding of the nature of time and space. Mike’s cutthroat working environment, in which his work is secretly being sabotaged and other scientists are being groomed to replace him, is balanced by Mike’s romantic interest in the beautiful TV anchor he met on an airplane.
After Steve returns home to the U.S., his “hallucinations” become even more pronounced. The net of deception around Mike’s work at the super collider continues to tighten. And Cox brings the two seemingly unrelated storylines together in an explosive finale. The problem? The novel seems largely composed of the “set up,” with that explosive finale coming too quickly, truncating in the process any real sense of character development or relationship building between the various characters.
Cox clearly understands quite a bit about modern physics, but his attempts to convey much of this information, and the “debate” about science and faith that he launches into early in the novel, are quite long-winded considering the overall length of the book. It opens rather leisurely, in fact; not even Steve’s headlong plunge to the streets of Zurich can alter the fact that Cox seems bent on featuring character conflict that doesn’t really lead very far, but which nonetheless takes a long time to get there. And the villains of the tale don’t really appear until so late, and their participation is wrapped up so quickly, that one barely has an opportunity to feel much suspense at all.
In the end, The God Particle is something like its subject matter: an experiment gone awry. Cox clearly envisioned the story as a meditation on the meaning of life, interspersing personal topics (such as the vagaries of dating) with the more complex notions of particle physics. He handles the science and even some of the dating with wit, but he falters quite a bit in establishing an appropriate sense of pace or plotting. The story stalls out toward the end, and it seems as though Cox simply rushed it to its seemingly “inevitable” conclusion.