Zig Zag follows the Michael Crichton school of technological thriller - think up an interesting concept, use it to stir fear and doubt toward science and progress. While admittedly a lot of what science offers us can be used for harm - Hiroshima, massive tanks, anthrax - science does a lot of good, as well. Of course, that hardly makes for a suspenseful thriller. Jose Carlos Somoza weaves his (very) long tale of suspense and murder, constantly ratcheting up the stakes, constantly blowing out of proportion the problems of science and technology. Scrape away the physics, though, and what Somoza has written is a competent if slightly ridiculous thriller that has enough titillation and gruesome details to satisfy readers.
Ah, the titillation. It comes in the form of Elisa, a young, beautiful physicist. Somoza describes her as having “long, wavy black hair and the face and body of a model.” That doesn't exactly tell us what she looks like, but it's all we are given to work with. All throughout the novel, Somoza has Elisa strip down to her panties, showing off her “hourglass figure,” or she becomes naked - often without realizing it! Yes, it is the tragedy of Somoza's world that all of the beautiful, hyper-intelligent females tend to remove all of their clothes without actually realizing they ever intended to become naked. Did I say tragedy? Excuse me. Coupled to that are constant references to her own “hotness”, a shocking level of examination on the status of her breasts and thighs, and, unbelievably, in the last third of the novel, three of the female characters actually become short skirt and tight dress-wearing, heavy makeup-using, fast-talking nymphomaniacs who spend each and every night preparing themselves (without wearing underwear, no less) to “serve” the unknown killer in his every sexual fantasy and desire. Readers, I only wish I were making this up.
To the plot. Elisa is, as noted, a brilliant physicist. She and others have been selected to travel to a remote island with David Blanes, world-famous physicist whose mathematical and theoretical constructs about string theory are so far above everyone else's head that he is simply stratospheric. They learn, to their amazement, that Blanes' string theory allows the ability to watch events that have happened from another time. The implications of this are interesting, but unfortunately Somoza seems afraid to explore the possibilities. Very briefly, the concept of watching the Crucifixion surfaces among the assembled island-goers, but something strange happens when they attempt to view Jerusalem, and from there, everything goes haywire.
It seems that when something from the past is observed, not all of the “strings” that make up a person's spatial and temporal (that's space and time, folks) definition is able to come along for the ride into the future. Thus we have a flat plain cratered like the moon, or a woman's face rotted and collapsed, without a mouth or nose. Even worse, it seems that once a person has observed an item from the past, that item seems to stay with them, to hover randomly in front of their vision. The harrowing implication of this is, what happens when you look back in time to someone who is still alive, say, and they start to appear in front of your eyes?
Somoza answers this, though he answers none of the other million questions which spring from such a fabulous premise. Consider the range of possibilities that could be explored with a device that sees back in time but also carries with it difficult moral weight. Now consider that Somoza turns Zig Zag into a standard, run-of-the-mill murder mystery, and that it runs along for over half a thousand pages.
Throughout, Somoza repeats two techniques, one of which is irritating, one of which is really quite good. The former is a technique whereby we are privy to all of the information contained within a character's minds, and everything they experience, except for the very thing which allows us to remain in suspense. We may be travelling inside Elisa's mind, learning of her theoretical hunt for sense in the world of strings, or her moral dilemma regarding observing living and dead people throughout time, and then, suddenly, absurdly, we are cut off just as she receives a phone call that “changes everything,” or she opens a door to see something that “makes her blood run cold.” The scene changes, we lose our focus, and later have to suffer through whatever problem or plot point by a series of dull conversations. Why not show us the action? Why not reveal your hand?
The latter technique is more interesting. Somoza likes to go off onto little tangents, mini-essays on subjects such as mystery, time, physics, morals, God, Heaven, Hell, and so forth. When he does this, he is generally measured, reasoned, interested and interesting. One wonders why he does not continue along in this vein, but instead he invariably opts for a stunning plot twist, or a depraved murder - which, unfairly, Somoza never details except to point out how even thinking about the murder sends people mad. All smoke, all mirrors.
A final word on, of all things, font. The ordinary font for the novel is quite good, very readable and clear. But the italics font, however, presents a problem. The s and r letters are so twisted that they become almost gibberish, and a number of other letters are extremely similar to one another. Long stretches of italics become difficult to decipher, which does not bode well for a text covered with internal thoughts presented as italics.
Zig Zag is Jose Carlos Somoza's twelfth novel. Considering his prolific output, it is perhaps understandable he was unable to give what is admittedly an interesting subject matter its deserved respect. With a little more time and a lot more effort, Somoza might have crafted a fine, intelligent, genuinely suspenseful thriller. Unfortunately, he did not, which means we are left with a novel filled with interesting ideas that are never given their due, and one very generic, very boring idea that is stretched out into five hundred plus pages of tedium.