Reviews: Michael Crichton

Rising Sun: Works as a mystery novel

Which is to say that Crichton does a good job of emulating the kind of mystery that one might find in an Agatha Christie; the two leads even share a rather Hastings/Poirot relationship in a way. Yet as with nearly every Crichton novel, there is some sort of topic that he would like to go into depth, and this is where I feel this novel kind of falls flat.

The story is one of the few stories of Crichton's fiction that is more "grounded" in reality: When a murder is committed on the floor above the grand opening of a Japanese office building in L.A., the officer who deals with foreign/political incidents is called to come help the investigation and to bring a semi-retired officer who has extensive knowledge of Japanese culture. As the investigation continues, motivations and suspects get caught up in the potential political/economic effects of the Japanese company, and the two officers must fight hard to find the truth in the mess.

The greatest strength of this novel is how well it works as a mystery, because the crime and investigation are rather intriguing, leaving you guessing until the end. As I said early, this does feel as if Crichton emulated Christie while writing not only the mystery but also the main characters in roles similar to the Hastings/Poirot so that there is an almost everyman's view and one from a person who know what to do and how to proceed. Another good thing about the novel is that Crichton does a good job at making his author tracts flow with the narrative, having them spoken by various characters.

The main problem that I had with the novel is the way Crichton portrays the Japanese, i.e. his author tracts. Maybe I had to be there in 1992, but in 2012, I don't see the Japanese the same way Crichton wants me to see them. I'm not trying to say that all Japanese are good or bad, but I kind of wish the book did, because it flips back and forth between these two views given by many different characters. Even towards the end of the book the main character is tired about hearing about the Japanese constantly.

In the end this is a solid mystery novel written like an Agatha Christie novel with Crichton's touches to it, even if hampered by the inconsistent portrayal of the Japanese.

Congo (novel): Short on Technology, High on Adventure

Which isnít to say that there is no discussion on technology in Congo, but it isnít as prevalent like other Crichton books like Jurassic Park, Prey, or The Andromeda Strain. Instead of a focus on technology, Crichton focuses much more on the thriller of the techno-thriller genre he is known for.

The story is an interesting one, beginning with a companyís expedition into the Congo for special diamonds being brutally destroyed by some sort of animals. Determined to get the diamonds and find out what happened to the previous team, the project leader goes out to the Congo to discover the truth, along her way picking up a primatologist, his sign language using gorilla, and a great white hunter to help her get through the Congo. Once there, the group must survive many obstacles to secure the diamonds from a lost city in the jungle.

The biggest strength of this novel is the adventure and situations that Crichton has his characters go through; even before the group travels into the Congo they have to go through modern obstacles, mostly dealing with corporate warfare. Yet once they get into the jungles of the Congo, the obstacles become much more deadly, from natives and the environment to dangerous animals, such as hippos, and the guardians of the lost city. Another addition to the novel that makes it interesting is the different gadgets and technologies they bring with them into the jungle. Some of these include scanning systems and portable computers, along with jungle defense systems like an electric perimeter fence and turrets operated by lasers, as strange as that might sound.

One of the problems that a person might have with this novel is the lack of focus on any one technology throughout the story, focusing more on the adventure. There are still different technologies that get described in Congo, but not on the same level as his other works. Another problem this book has, like most of Crichtonís fiction novels, is that the characters do not get developed all that much beside what we are told from before the adventure gets underway, although the four main characters are different enough so that they all stand out from each other.

Overall, this novel is for people who want to read what more modern day adventure into Africa would look like, since Crichton seems to gotten that down pretty well, in exchange for less of a focus on technology.