A team of expert cavers exploring a challenging cave in New Mexico in search of a possible connection to Carlsbad Caverns tumble into a chamber deep underground containing something which just shouldn’t be there: a huge slab of metal, like titanium, twenty-four feet square and eight inches thick, set into the rock of the cave, bearing markings which resemble the pits and lands on an optical storage disc. No evidence for human presence in the cave prior to the discoverers is found, and dating confirms that the slab is at least ten thousand years old. There is no way an object that large could be brought through the cramped and twisting passages of the cave to the chamber where it was found.
Wealthy adventurer Nicholas Foxe, with degrees in archaeology and cryptography, gets wind of the discovery and pulls strings to get access to the cave, putting together a research program to try to understand the origin of the slab and decode its enigmatic inscription. But as news of the discovery reaches others, they begin to pursue their own priorities. A New Mexico senator sends his on-the-make assistant to find out what is going on and see how it might be exploited to his advantage. An ex-Army special forces operator makes stealthy plans. An MIT string theorist with a wide range of interests begins exploring unorthodox ideas about how the inscriptions might be encoded. A televangelist facing hard times sees the Tablet as the way back to the top of the heap. A wealthy Texan sees the potential in the slab for wealth beyond his abundant dreams of avarice. As the adventure unfolds, we encounter a panoply of fascinating characters: a World Health Organization scientist, an Italian violin maker with an eccentric theory of language and his autistic daughter, and a “just the facts” police inspector. As clues are teased from the enigma, we visit exotic locations and experience harrowing adventure, finally grasping the significance of a discovery that bears on the very origin of modern humans.
About now, you might be thinking “This sounds like a Dan Brown novel”, and in a sense you’d be right. But this is the kind of story Dan Brown would craft if he were a lot better author than he is: whereas Dan Brown books have become stereotypes of cardboard characters and fill-in-the-blanks plots with pseudo-scientific bafflegab stirred into the mix (see my review of Origin), this is a gripping tale filled with complex, quirky characters, unexpected plot twists, beautifully sketched locales, and a growing sense of wonder as the significance of the discovery is grasped. If anybody in Hollywood had any sense (yes, I know…) they would make this into a movie instead of doing another tedious Dan Brown sequel. This is subtitled “A Nicholas Foxe Adventure”: I sincerely hope there will be more to come.
The author kindly let me read a pre-publication manuscript of this novel. The Kindle edition is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Coppley, Jackson. The Code Hunters. Chevy Chase, MD: Contour Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-09-107011-0.