You're right, this book isn't in the BBC Big Read, but we did say we are not limiting ourselves to writing only about books in that 100 list.
I went through three distinct phases as I read this book. The first part of the book I found interesting. The middle section I got bored. By the end I found myself reading with excitement and anticipation, and was burning the midnight oil in order to get it finished.
The subtitle of this book is "A novel of the earth's last days". It begins with the instantaneous disappearance of millions of people world wide, covers briefly the impact this has on society and people's lives, before moving onto a conspiracy theory like political scene - which is the part where I got bored. The final part of the book is where the penny starts to drop with the main characters and pieces of the puzzle are put together. A budding romance helped revived my interest!
Before I go any further, you need to know where I stand regarding the "earth's last days". I'm a Christian, and I believe in the second coming of Christ and the biblical prophecies of an anti-Christ and period of trials and tribulation. This is what the book attempts to create - a picture of how these events will unfold. I give credit to the authors who have a heck of an imagination to be able to weave a story which might represent what and how all this will unfold.
There is a stumbling block for me; the book was written in 1995. The reporter in the book is using dial up internet to connect to his office and lodge mail and stories. This is all well and good if you're a reader back in 1995, but it's comical to me as a current day reader (*ahem* and blogger) and unfortunately it detracts from the credibility of the book. There are several other current take-for-granted technologies whose absence are glaringly obvious too - like the fact that basically everyone has a mobile phone (and not just the privileged few) and millions of people now communicate via social networking sites. If you can put yourself back into 1995 and pretend you're reading it then, it would help.
Naturally I can't blame the authors for the progress of time. However, it does make me pause and think. If in 1995 we could not even forsee the proliferation of broadband internet, mobile phones and the progression of communication from email, text messaging, blogging, facebook and twitter, how can we possibly begin to imagine how the end times will play out? Particularly since we cannot know if it will happen tomorrow, in 100 or even 1000 years from now.
Anyway, knowing something about what the bible says of the end of days is why at times I struggled with the book. If you don't know anything about this, you'd be reading the book from the viewpoint of someone simply reading a fiction novel and wouldn't have the same reservations and preconceived notions lurking in the back of your mind. But then again, maybe no one is able to read any book about the worlds end days without reservations since everyone has some opinion on the matter!
If I leave aside the skeptical echos in my mind, I can tell you it's an enjoyable book with some good characters, a bit of intrigue, a tiny bit of romance and it has left me curious enough to want to pick up the next book in the series and read on. And as I've already said, I admire the creative thought of the authors who've been able to take scriptural prophecies and invent characters and events to represent them.
I have no idea how a reader with no biblical background would receive the book. I'd be curious to know, so if that's you - would love to hear your reactions!