I find myself of two minds about The God Particle by Richard Cox. This should be exactly the type of book I enjoy: interesting intellectual hook, fast paced plot, and suspenseful ending. But despite the above, I found The God Particle a little disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, if you enjoy techno thrillers that use real life science as a jumping off point for their extraordinary plots you will enjoy this book. The basic hook is creative: while a scientist searches for the Higgs Boson – the so called God Particle that unifies the universe – motivated by the pure search for truth and understanding (and maybe a little glory for himself) a sinister conspiracy is funding that search for more nefarious reasons.
Steve Keeley is on a business trip to Zurich when things go wrong. He has a nasty argument with his secretary; finds out that his girlfriend – to whom he had planed to propose when he returned to the states – is cheating on him; visits a cabaret/brothel and drinks himself into a impotent stupor; and finally wakes up only to have a bouncer throw him out of a third story window.
Remarkably Keeley lives thanks to the services of a mysterious Zurich surgeon. But things are most assuredly not normal. He seems to see the world on another level and feels capable of doing impossible things. Either he is going crazy or the fall affected his brain.
Meanwhile, Mike McNair is the senior physicist and project manager at a privately funded super collider in North Texas. McNair is searching for the elusive Higgs boson – the so called God Particle of the title. What Mike doesn’t know is that the money to keep the collider running no longer comes from the millionaire business man he reports to, but from men with more sinister goals.
Keeley and McNair are brought together as the story races to a climax. And for the most part Cox does a good job of keeping the deeper conspiracy just below the surface so the tension builds as Keeley tries to understand what happened to him that night in Zurich and McNair deals with the pressure of working at a $12 billion facility with nothing yet to show for it. The suspense part of the story is well done.
Two things, however, got under my skin. One was the gratuitous (to my mind) sexual titillation Cox insisted on throwing into the novel. The crucial fall is set up by Keeley finding out that his girlfriend is cheating on him and the resulting night with a prostitute. He finds out about his girlfriendâ€™s infidelity when her cell phone inadvertently calls his cell phone during sex. So Keeley literally listens to her sex talk via phone from across the ocean. When Keeley ends up visiting the brothel Cox feels the need to describe the sexual antics involved in some detail. Keeley’s relationship with his secretary is infused with sexual tension and eventually sexual contact. Again the details involved seemed over the top and the connection to the plot thin. Do we really need to have Keeley read his secretary’s thoughts as she performs fellatio? Is this a necessary plot point?
Finally, a semi-central character has bizarre behavioral and mental issues. This eventually involves video taping his friend, and boss, McNair having sex while at the same time engaging in a sexual act himself. Again this episode adds nothing to the plot and seemed rather gratuitous. It as if Cox said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to have a character be a perverted alcoholic who fantasizes about celebrities?” and then just ran with it. Perhaps I am just more prudish than the average reader, but I found it distracting and unnecessary.
The other issue that annoyed me was Cox’s evident anti-religious bias. Throughout the story science is seen as the only rational and intelligent tool to make sense of the world. Religious thought, particularly traditional religious belief, is mocked and portrayed as intolerant and ignorant. Cox eventually has Keeley declare that the universe is not based on any intelligence but simple exists as a sort of miraculous combination of random events (It reminded me of a fiction version of this book). The confusing ending has an oddly deterministic feel to it.
As I noted above, The God Particle is in some ways a creative and immaginative story. Those who enjoy fantastic “what if” type scenarios spun out of current science will likely enjoy it. But I found the gratuitous sex and anti-faith tone cheapened it a bit for me. Instead of a thought provoking piece of fiction it came off more as a romance novel for physics geeks.