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Labyrinth    by Mark T. Sullivan order for
by Mark T. Sullivan
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Pocket, 2003 (2002)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This thriller opens on the Moon in 1972, when two astronauts on foray outside the lunar module collect a rock, but conceal the fact that it exposed one of them to an energy storm. Next comes a homicidal incident in a 2004 Tennessee University lab, involving the same rock and obsessed research assistant Robert Gregor, who has been secretly studying it, and has discovered it to be an incredibly powerful superconductor. Three years later we meet the Burke caver family, going through a dysfunctional phase, due to the mother Whitney's trauma, that occurred when she and her friend Jeannie were caught in an underground flash flood, in which the latter drowned.

Thirteen months later, Whitney can't cope with the nightmares and won't go near a cave, which is a problem since the Burkes are cave scientists and have been studying Labyrinth Cave in Kentucky for years. Tom is distracted by a major ongoing NASA project (in which both he and Cricket are involved), whose intent is to use the cave to train future lunar miners. The teenager just wants her family back to the way it was before the disaster, before home became 'a dark hole in the ground where you might get lost and never find yourself again.'

The next actors to whom the reader is introduced are prison convicts and a guard, Billy Lyons, who inexplicably turns on his fellows and frees his prisoners during a transfer. One convict is a murderer, another was convicted for serial sexual assault, and then there is Robert Gregor, who appears ill from some wasting disease. Other players include Damian Finnerty, a Kentucky U.S. Marshall assigned to track them down, and a set of physicists, Dr. Swain and his genius nephew Chester, also after the rock. The stage is set and the action quickly commences. Tom and Cricket, begin the cave descent with their NASA team, the convicts close on their heels and the U.S. Marshalls close behind them.

A hostage situation soon results, with Tom and Cricket forced to don the convicts' belts (which can be used to give them high voltage electric jolts) and to act as guides through the cave, in search of ... the moon rock, of course. And, naturally, Whitney is roped in to help with the pursuit, her terror of the cave fighting her feelings for her loved ones. What follows is an order of magnitude rougher than anything Theseus encountered in the Cretan labyrinth. In addition to the usual perils of an enormous cave system (remind me never to go underground again), there is an earthquake and flood, along with very human dangers from the convicts.

But the Burke family motto is 'Never give the cave a chance' and they extend its scope to cover the other risks facing them. It's a wild ride, especially for Cricket, who has an exceptionally tough coming of age, but learns to take care of herself and of her dad. And Whitney concludes that life is like a cave; 'a series of difficult passages to be negotiated with a faith in something greater than yourself so you might once again emerge into sunlight.' Don't miss Labyrinth when it is released in August 2002; it will take you into the abyss and out again.

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