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Code to Zero

A man wakes up to find himself lying on the ground in a railway station, his mind stripped bare of all recollection. He has no idea how he got there; he does not even know his own name. Convinced he is a drunken down and out, it isn’t until a newspaper report about a satellite launch catches his eye that he suspects all is not what it seems…

The year is 1958, and America is about to launch its first satellite in a desperate attempt to match the Soviet Sputnik and regain the lead in the space race. As Luke Lucas gradually unravels the mystery of his amnesia, he realizes that his fate is bound up with that of the rocket that stands ready on launch pad 26B at Cape Canaveral.

And as he relearns the story of his life, he uncovers long-kept secrets about his wife, his best friend and the woman he once loved more than life itself…

Code to Zero deals with one of the most ruthlessly contested arenas of the Cold War. Deceit and betrayal, love and trust interweave at the most political and personal levels, while the spectre of mind-control hovers constantly above. Each second brings destruction closer…

Ken’s view

Code to Zero is an amnesia story. I got the idea from a book about a CIA research project, top secret of course, in which the agency tried in real life to find drugs that would make people forget things. Luke, the hero who loses his memory has to rediscover his entire life by detective work. He doesn’t get his memory back. Luke is a mathematician, I wanted to write about scientists, because there are not many novels about scientists.

So I looked for a period in history when the work scientists were doing was very important on the world stage. And I decided on the early space race when USSR had put the Sputnik into orbit and the Americans’ Vanguard rocket had blown up on the launch pad.

Luke’s loss of memory turns out to be bound up with his work for the space programme and a plot to sabotage the Explorer, the first American Satellite.

Listen to Ken’s view on Code to Zero


Read the first chapter

Listen to an excerpt


  • “A Cold War cracker set in 1958 centered on the beginning of the space race” — Weekend Magazine The Times / The Telegraph
  • “Confirms his ability to write well… the plotting is strong… the characters have genuine depth… an intelligent novel” — Time Out
  • “Ken Follett returns to write an espionage thriller and revives the intense rivalry between the Americans and the Russians to be first in the Space Race” — La Stampa (Italian Daily)
  • “Nail-biting, romantic suspense novel… the man behind this cracking book truly is a master storyteller” — Southern Daily Echo
  • “Code to Zero’s split-second suspense proves that nearly a quarter of a century after his breakthrough novel, Eye of the Needle, [Follett is] still a hell of a storyteller.” — Entertainment Weekly
  • Code to Zero is Follett at his best.” — People
  • “Follett creates a rousing story that never flags.” — Chicago Tribune
  • “A knockout, a big fat wallow of a book that won’t let [fans] get back to their lives until they've finished… Follett writes beautifully… This is thriller novelizing of the highest order.” — Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Published as

Code to Zero by Ken Follett — Macmillan, UK 2000.

Also published in other languages, and available as an audiobook and as an ebook.