Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: "The Fourth Awakening" by Rod Pennington and Jeffrey A. Martin

I was predisposed to like "The Fourth Awakening." I like thrillers, I don't mind the religion angle hinted at in the blurb, and as a journalist, the protagonist's career -- investigative reporter -- caught my interest. It’s too bad the book didn’t live up to its promise.

Pennington's heroine, Penelope, is a woman adrift after her marriage ends and her children have left home. Years ago she was a hotshot investigative reporter, winning a Pulitzer for her work and then choosing family over her career. With no family life to speak of now, she's regretting that fact. When an old buddy from the Washington Post offers her a dangerous but potentially prize-winning story, she barely hesitates before jumping right in. The government has detained a billionaire, Michael Walker, for mysterious charges related to a project he was working on. Penelope interviews him and, in short order, has helped him break out of a high-security prison and gone on the run with him to his group's compound. Along the way, he tells her of his group's discovery of the coming Fourth Awakening, which will introduce a sea change to the way humanity lives. He wants Penelope to break the story of the awakening to the world. Of course, there are those who don't want that to happen.

It sounds good. The supporting facts Pennington brings into play are convincing enough that suspension of disbelief wasn't difficult. Through Walker, he details the first three "awakenings" -- the emergence of homo sapiens, man's realization of mortality and the ascendance of science over religion -- that mankind has already experienced. Walker's group has found a way to speed individuals through the fourth awakening, which he explains as akin to reaching enlightenment. This aspect of the story is the strongest and, by extension, the most interesting. Pennington ties the historical details together much like Dan Brown did in the "Da Vinci Code" -- you know it's not true, but there's enough truth there to make the read enjoyable.

If only I could have gotten past Penelope.

She's a superjournalist. Pulitzer Prize-winner extraordinaire. “The best damned investigative reporter in the world,” as she’s toasted at the end. We hear it over and over again, but there's no evidence of it, anywhere, aside from the Pulitzer. This amazing story that she breaks was handed to her by an old friend -- well, actually, by Walker, as we later find out in a discussion between Penelope and Walker:

"How did you know I was coming?"
“Because I needed you and I asked you to come.”
“You needed me and you asked me to come?”

Aside from the initial effort it took her to get into the prison, she doesn't do anything to break the story. Walker and his group hand her everything she needs -- up to and including pre-written background articles on their work -- for her stories. Now, I'm a journalist myself, so I probably come at this from a different angle than the average reader, but it's ridiculous how much Penelope is praised and idolized and congratulated for sitting there and writing what she's told to write.

Not to mention the way she lets Walker control her, even picking out her clothes on several occasions. What the?

And then the story just ... ends. There's no dramatic confrontation with the bad guys (heck, I'm not even clear by the end of who the bad guys were), and the most-dramatic, most-foreshadowed arc culminated with Walker and Penelope dancing the tango in front of the rest of the supporting cast.

“The Fourth Awakening” was a quick, fun read, but I’m not rushing out to buy the sequel (“The Gathering Darkness”), and I doubt it’s a book I’ll pick up for a re-read.