Cover image for Labyrinth : a thriller
Labyrinth : a thriller
Sullivan, Mark T.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atria Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
359 pages ; 25 cm
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The New York Times Notable novelist and Pulitzer-nominated journalist spins a crackling tale of thrills and sophisticated intrigue that takes readers from the peaks of the Moon down into the very bowels of the Earth. Soon to be a major motion picture from Paramount, produced by Scott Rudin (The Addams Family, Sleepy Hollow).

Author Notes

Mark Sullivan was born and raised in Medfield, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He earned a BA in English from Hamilton College in 1980. After graduating, he served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps returning to the United States in 1982. He then studied at the Medill School of Journalism of Northwestern University in Chicago. He began writing fiction at 30 and his first novel, The Fall Line (1994), was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He has co-authored with James Patterson on the novels Private Games, Private Berlin and The Games.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

From the author of the good (The Fall Line, 1994) and the bad though inexplicably popular (The Purification Ceremony, 1997) comes a solid, exciting, well-told thriller. Seems there's an expedition deep into a labyrinth of underground caves (NASA wants to see whether people can be trained to mine the caves of the moon); seems there's a band of escaped cons, including a once-respected physicist who murdered his supervisor to protect the secrets of a moon rock with very unusual properties. The two groups meet each other in the labyrinth, where Tom Burke and his teenage daughter find their lives in jeopardy. Only Tom's wife, an expert spelunker who's currently terrified of going into a cave (there was this fatal accident a while back), can save them . . . if she can find them. Sullivan, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee for investigative journalism, is finally getting the hang of fiction, offering us characters we can believe in and a plot that is simultaneously fantastic and entirely plausible. Recommended for fans of fast-paced adventure novels with a scientific bent. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

While earning enthusiastic reviews for his thrillers (The Purification Ceremony, etc.), Sullivan hasn't sold in really impressive numbers. His fourth novel could catapult him onto national bestseller lists, however, for not only is it expertly crafted, it's one of the most exciting yarns of this millennium. In an elaborate cave system in eastern Kentucky, a moon rock lies hidden. This rock has superconductivity, which, if harnessed, will solve the world's energy crises that's why Robert Gregor, the young scientist who discovered its properties three years ago, killed his mentor, who threatened to claim the discovery for himself; Gregor then secreted the rock in the cave before he was captured by police. Now it's 2007 and NASA, to train for a return to the moon to mine further superconductive moon rocks, is sponsoring a media-saturated expedition into the cave system, an expedition led by renowned caver Tom Burke and including his daughter, Cricket, 14, but not his wife, Whitney, an expert caver haunted by a recent foray into those caves that killed her companion. As the NASA expedition begins, Gregor, aided by a guard, escapes from prison with two tough cons and heads for the cave to retrieve the moon rock. Most of the novel's intense action takes place in the underground labyrinth, a fabulous otherworldly backdrop that Sullivan exploits brilliantly as he rotates his narration among Burke's party (soon captured by Gregor and his cohorts), a rescue team guided by the fearful Whitney and a third team of NASA scientists and U.S. military who plan to get the rock at any cost. The novel is honeycombed with plot twists and cliffhangers, giving it a slightly contrived, Saturday matinee feel (and it'll make a terrific movie; Scott Rudin has optioned rights), but Sullivan's sensitively constructed characters give it weight and depth. This is a great summer read. 4-city author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A respected journalist and novelist, Sullivan returns with the story of a cave researcher who has sworn she will never return to the depths until her husband and daughter disappear on a caving expedition. A film is coming. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Entrance June 13, 2007 11:30 P.M. 14 Valley Lane Tarrington, Kentucky Whitney Burke moaned, twitched, and trembled in her sleep. In her nightmare, muddy water swirled and rose, flooding more of the cave in which she was trapped. She pressed herself back against the underground wall, trying to get away from the water, but it kept surging toward the ledge where she'd taken refuge. There was only two feet of airspace left in the little cavern. In the brilliant beam of light given off by the headlamp attached to her helmet, she saw a sudden bubbling in the eddying copper current, as if a large obstruction somewhere downstream had dislodged. The water came up four quick inches. Then up breached the body, facedown, bobbing. Whitney groaned as the corpse bumped against her boots. She began to shake so hard she felt her purchase on the cave ledge weaken. She slid and plunged into the chill water next to the body. Her light flared, then dimmed. She clawed at the rock overhead, trying to get back up on the outcropping, trying to get away from the body. The body bobbed against her, then rolled over. The drowned figure was her husband, Tom. Whitney bolted upright in her bed, perspiration soaking her nightgown. Her strawberry blond hair was matted across her tortured face. She kicked and tore herself free of the covers, then rolled off the mattress and stumbled toward the window, throwing it wide open and gulping at the spiced air of Kentucky in late spring. She focused on the shadows the moon tossed across the lawn as a way to still the panic attack that had every inch of her shaking. But despite her every effort, Whitney saw the image from her nightmare again: her husband turned around and around in the waters of Terror Hole Cave, cinnamon liquid pouring out the side of his mouth, his eyes as pupilless as those of a blind cave crayfish. She felt a hand on her shoulder, spun, and screamed, "No! Don't!" Tom Burke pulled his hand away as if he had touched a live wire. Whitney's husband was forty but looked thirty, with short black hair prematurely shot through with streaks of silver. His blue eyes were flecked with bits of charcoal gray. He wore faded red gym shorts and a yellow T-shirt that advertised Petzl climbing helmets. Every bone, muscle, and sinew in Tom's body looked like it could have been struck from granite. Right at that moment, his face was a carving of fatigue and anger. "Can't even stand to have me touch you anymore, Whit," he murmured. Whitney's mouth moved, but no sound came out. She kept seeing her husband spinning in the cave water. The door to the bedroom opened behind them. "Mom? Dad?" The voice was that of a teenaged girl, tired and anxious. "What's going on?" Whitney's attention jumped to her daughter, standing in the doorway in the ratty blue nightgown she always wore to bed. Like Whitney, the young teenager was pretty, athletic, and freckle-faced, with vivid emerald eyes, naturally crimson lips, a bit too much nose, a narrow, dimpled chin, and a funny left ear that folded over at the top. Whitney felt herself about to break down, but clamped a lid on the emotion. You don't have to go back in the cave anymore, she told herself. She took a deep breath, glanced at her husband's stony face, and said, "We're all right. Go back to bed, Cricket." "What? The nightmare again?" Cricket said in a defensive, exasperated tone. "Can't you just get over this, Mom? It's been more than a year!" "What do you know about it!" Whitney cried, looking at her daughter and then her husband. "What do either of you know about any of it?" "Calm down, Whit," Tom growled. "She's just frustrated. We both are." "Well, isn't that wonderful," Whitney replied. "I'm the one who's living in hell! But you two are frustrated." At that, Cricket burst into tears. "I don't even know who you are anymore, Mom." She turned and ran from the room. "Now look what you've done!" Tom bellowed. "Me?" Whitney screamed. "I'm not the one taking her into Labyrinth Cave, Tom. You'd think you'd be more sensitive to my situation." "That's all I've been for thirteen goddamned months," he said. "Sensitive to the point of numbness. Life goes on, Whitney. Our life goes on even it you don't want to be a part of it." "You're using her," Whitney shot back. "NASA's using her. Have you for one second thought about what might happen to her down in that fucking cave? Has NASA? Or do you even dare to question them? They all but run your life these days, Tom." "Cricket's an expert," Tom replied. "I'm an expert. So are you, in case you've forgotten. Accidents happen to people who give the cave a chance. We Burkes don't. NASA knows that." Whitney shook her head violently. "I didn't give the cave a chance, Tom. It came after me. It could come after you, too! Or Cricket. Or anybody on your team. Leave her here with me." Tom stood there, flexing his hands to fists, then he shook his head. "Cricket's going in for just six hours. It's scheduled, and after everything she's been through the past year, she deserves to go. She deserves the recognition." "After everything she's been through! How dare you!" "Cricket will be in and out in six hours," he replied firmly. "Six hours." They were silent for almost a minute, staring at each other across the abyss. Then Tom held his palms out to her and said in a softer voice, "You know you could still be a part of it, Whit. The most important cave expedition in history. Everything we ever dreamed about. Maybe if you at least came to the site, maybe -- " "No. Never. Haven't you figured that out yet, Tom? That part of my life is over. It's dead and gone. I'll never go in a cave again. Ever." He stared at her for a long moment, tears welling up in his eyes. "Then where does that leave us?" Whitney stared back at her husband, seeing in her mind the vision of his body swirling in the cave, and fought at the choking sensation in her throat. "I don't know, Tom. I just don't know." June 14, 2007 4:25 A.M. Near Rawlins, Kentucky Five hours later and a hundred miles to the north, the full moon loomed huge in the western sky, casting an ashy glow over the interstate. Tom Burke had the radio in his red Ford F-150 tuned to an all-news station, where a reporter was finishing up a story about the continuing national efforts to create an autonomous source of energy for America to supplant the need for Middle East oil in the wake of September 11, 2001. Ordinarily when driving long distances Tom preferred music, reggae in particular. The deep throbbing bass notes always put him in mind of the place in Jamaica where he and Whitney had spent their honeymoon. But lately he could not bring himself to listen to anything with a lazy Caribbean beat; such music reminded him too much of the way his life used to be. Before the accident. He flipped on the blinker and eased by a tractor trailer. Cricket sat beside him, her head against the window, her arms crossed, a look of complete boredom on her face. The news story ended, followed by a brief riff of jazz, then a female announcer came on. "Can a perilous cave expedition provide a resolution to the current national debate over whether to return to the moon? NASA seems to think so. Shortly after dawn tomorrow morning, the space agency will launch its first efforts toward returning astronauts to the Descartes Highlands of the moon in search of rare superconducting ores scientists believe hold the future to our energy needs. "Tom Burke, widely regarded as the world's greatest caver, will lead the experiment, a never-before-tried traverse of the giant Labyrinth Cave system in east-central Kentucky," the anchorwoman continued. "Burke and his team will attempt to negotiate more than one hundred twenty-five miles of dangerous underground passage in less than five days. NASA scientists will closely monitor the trial, hoping to glean valuable data to be used to design training programs for the future lunar miners. "In other news..." Cricket shot upright. "Did you hear that?" Tom turned to her and grinned. "Told you this was big stuff." "You sure I can't go the whole way with you?" Cricket pleaded. "Nope." "Dad," she said sullenly. "I'm as good as any of those people NASA chose." "The best young caver I know," he replied. "But we're going end to end in the Labyrinth, sweetheart. Toughest underground trip I've ever heard of." Cricket got up on her knees on the bench seat and batted at a wayward lock of strawberry blond hair dangling in front of her eyes. "How much you want to bet I'd make it out the other side?" Tom snorted. "I don't bet against fourteen-year-olds who take third in the four hundred at the state track meet. But being an ace quarter-miler doesn't mean you're going. When NASA asked me to run the Artemis Program, they were looking for data on how adults would deal with a rocky environment in total darkness, how adults would deal with moon mining. Not children." Cricket threw her hands on her hips and shot Tom a look of incensed disbelief. "I'm not a child! I'm a young woman." "Technically, no," Tom said. Cricket turned crimson, then sputtered, "Jesus, Dad, real nice thing to say." Tom winced, knowing he'd gone too far. His daughter was very sensitive about the whole thing. She was fourteen and had not yet had her period. The doctors said her obsessive running may have delayed the onset of her menstruation. The stress the family was under couldn't be helping things either. "Sorry, Cricket," Tom said. "I was out of line." "No one takes me seriously, not even you," Cricket brooded. "Everything -- " "Everything what?" "It's all just so screwed up. Mom. Me. Everything!" Before Tom could respond, she turned her back on him, chewing on the inside of her cheek and looking out the window. Tom sighed at the unfathomable enigma of surging adolescent hormones amid a family in crisis. He knew she was hurting. They were both hurting at the loss of Whitney in their day-to-day life. But he'd been over this ground so many times that he was just sick of it. His mind longed for other things to dwell on than the miserable state of his family, and, geologist that he was, he turned his attention to the physical world. They had been driving nearly an hour from their home near the Tennessee border. A vast plain on the eastern side of the two-lane highway stretched toward nine distant ridges, barely visible even in the strong moonlight. The plain was laid out in pastures and agricultural fields, but here and there trees grew in clusters around circular depressions called sinkholes that were filled with jumbles of logs, branches, and other debris. Somewhere out there, Tom knew, a brook sinewed across a soft green meadow before disappearing into a deep sinkhole. Where water goes underground, where sinkholes form on plains, there are always caves. And caves had been a constant part of Tom's life since birth. His father had been one of the original Flint Ridge cavers, a group of intrepid explorers who discovered much of what was then the longest known cave in the world, the Mammoth Cave system -- a 346-mile maze of underground passages north of Bowling Green, Kentucky. As a boy Tom had accompanied his father on hundreds of cave trips. His dad had shown him that caves were grand adventure, intrigue, and mystery all rolled into one; you had to be an accomplished mountain climber, a risk taker, and a detective to survive, explore, and understand them. "There's no greater satisfaction in life than discovery, being an explorer," his father had always preached. "In a cave, that can happen at every turn." With that kind of upbringing it was no surprise to anyone that after finishing his doctorate in geology at Emory University, Tom set out to find his own cave. The Mammoth system lay underneath the western slope of what geologists call the Cincinnati Arch, a fossilized, layered pastry of stone put down hundreds of thousands of years ago by a vast sea called the Mississippian. Back in 1999, Tom had been a newly appointed assistant professor at the School of Cave and Karst Studies at Western Kentucky University. As part of his research, he had decided to look for a new cave in the limestone formations to the north and east of Mammoth. That portion of the Cincinnati Arch had a lot of sandstone in it, which made most cavers discount the area as far as full-scale exploration was concerned. But using satellite imagery as well as old mining-drill logs, Tom had pinpointed a remote series of nine ridges north of Irvine and south of the Furnace River where the limestone deposits seemed deeper and purer than anywhere else in Kentucky. Every weekend for nearly seven months, Tom, Whitney, and then six-year-old Cricket had walked the ridges and dry streambeds near the Furnace River, searching for cave entrances. They found several small grottoes with leads of hundreds of feet, but ultimately no going cave. Every weekend for seven months they had returned home disappointed and sore. When they told other cavers about their study area, most had just laughed and said everyone knew there weren't any caves near the Furnace. But on Labor Day, 2000, Tom had decided they should search once again on the north end of the first ridge. They'd been there before, several times in fact, but never found any indication of an underground passage. After many hours of tramping through the brush, Cricket had announced she was too tired to go on. She sat in the sun on a pile of loose rocks. Grasshoppers buzzed and whirred in the heat. And then Cricket had felt cool, almost cold air puffing at her ankles. "Daddy!" she'd screamed. "Mommy! The ground's blowing!" There is only one explanation for the ground blowing air -- a cave. What lay under Cricket's rock pile was the first-known entrance to a subterranean environment so vast and complex that Tom christened it the Labyrinth. It became Tom's obsession to explore the find. Relying on mapping technology of his own design, Tom, Whitney, Cricket, and a group of twenty hard-core cave explorers had discovered and charted nearly 180 miles of underground passage within two years. Within five years, they had expanded the working knowledge of the cave another two hundred miles. The Labyrinth was now the world's longest known cave. In a cover article for National Geographic published in August 2004, Tom wrote that he did not believe he had explored the entire system and he speculated that the cave Cricket discovered might someday prove to be a thousand miles of total passage. Through the windshield of his truck, Tom could now clearly make out the silhouette of the Labyrinth's nine rounded ridges. Each of them jutted nearly a thousand vertical feet above the sinkhole plain. Forest-clad and articulated along a sweeping curve, Tom thought that the layout of the ridges resembled the crinkled folds of an antique paper fan separated from its handle. Seeing them, he felt as if he were coming home to the place where he had always felt most centered. That thought was followed by one that sobered him. For years he'd always come to the Labyrinth with Whitney. Now she would not even go near a cave. His face screwed up at the melancholy and exasperation that welled within him. She'd always been there for him, through all the tough years. Now they were separated by a single horrible incident that Whitney seemed unable to overcome. He knew he should not feel this way, considering all the sacrifices she'd made for him over the years, but here, at the moment of his greatest triumph, he felt abandoned and angry at her for leaving him. Focus, compartmentalize, Tom told himself. You've got a job to do. A job that's vital to the nation's future. That thought sent chills through him. He thought of himself first and foremost as a scientist. The Artemis Project was not only clearly to the benefit of the nation but to the benefit of mankind. He was part of a team working to solve the world's energy needs. To tell the truth, he was more excited than he'd been at the first discovery of Labyrinth Cave. He was doing something that really mattered. His worries over his fractured relationship with Whitney would have to be set aside for the time being. Tom turned onto a gravel road that coursed along the southern base of the Labyrinth's nine hogbacks. At the easternmost ridge, he made a left turn onto an even narrower byway that climbed through a series of switchback turns. At the crest of the ridge, he angled the truck onto a dirt two-track and immediately stopped at a gate manned by U.S. Air Force Military Police. A metal sign on the gate read: NASA CLOSED AREA: NO ENTRY WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION. A burly MP approached their truck with a powerful flashlight, which he shone inside. Then he asked for and examined their identification. "You'll have tent six, Dr. Burke. Directly behind Pavilion A, adjacent to the quarters of the mission commander." "I'll find it," Tom said. "Has the rest of my team arrived?" "Last one, a woman from France, came in just before midnight, sir," the guard said, before studying his clipboard. "We have three Burkes on our security list." Tom stiffened. "My wife isn't coming. She isn't feeling well." "Sorry to hear that, sir," the guard said offhandedly before signaling the gate man. The metal bar rose. They drove through and onto a darkened lane protected by a thick canopy of oak trees. At the end of the two-track, they emerged into a clearing. "Old man Jenkins must be rolling over in his grave," Cricket said petulantly. When the Burkes had first seen the clearing nearly nine years ago it had been part of an old farmstead. A sagging barn. Goats, pigs, and chickens in wire enclosures set about a ramshackle farmhouse. A swaybacked horse named Fred had inhabited the meadow beyond. It was the empire of a hermit named Roswell Jenkins. After much cajoling, the old man had given the Burkes permission to camp on his property while they explored the cave. The cantankerous septuagenarian normally hated visitors, but he came to look forward to their arrival late on Friday nights. Inevitably the Burkes and Jenkins had become close, but the family had been stunned when the old man died and left them his land in support of Tom's dream of turning the Labyrinth and its nine ridges into a national park. Now the entire farmyard was lit by banks of halogen lights powered by a half-dozen generators. Five television transmission trucks were parked around the huge old elm that shaded the farmhouse. A stage was under construction in what used to be the paddock. A series of large canvas tents of the sort used for outdoor weddings stood on the other side of the farmhouse. The waterproof tent flaps were tied open to reveal mosquito netting through which could be seen row after row of long tables upon which sat dozens of computers. Behind the larger pavilions stood a dozen smaller tents, quarters for the NASA support personnel. Despite the early hour, the place bustled with activity. They parked and were climbing out of the truck when Andy Swearingen, a sandy-blond-haired man in his early twenties, wearing khaki shorts, hiking boots, and a sweatshirt that read artemis CAVE PROJECT, trotted out to meet them. "You're late, boss," Andy called. "Hey, Cricket." Tom saw Cricket's entire physical attitude change. During the entire drive north she'd been sulking and dismal. Now she blushed and smiled at Andy. Tom felt a twinge of anxiety pulse through him because it dawned on him for the first time that his daughter might have a crush on his assistant and it bothered him. His little girl was becoming a young lady. It would not be long now before she began the process of separation. His family was fragmenting, on the point of disintegration. "How's it coming?" Tom managed to say. "Everything's right on schedule, but your schedule keeps growing. NASA booked you on the Today show tomorrow morning. Helen Greidel herself is flying in to do interviews." Cricket turned and looked at her father with astonishment. "Dad, that's wild! You're gonna be on national television!" "You too, Cricket," Andy added. "What?" Cricket cried. "Greidel's producers asked that Ms. Alexandra Burke also be available." "Me?" Cricket said. "On the Today show? Oh, I don't know about that." Andy leaned over and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. "You're gonna do great." Cricket's skin turned red with embarrassment and confusion. "I don't know if I want to do this, Dad." Tom sighed. "We need you, Cricket. It's for the good of the project. It's good for me, too, okay?" Cricket stared at her father for a long moment, then nodded. "Okay, Dad. But only for you." 5:15 A.M. Eddyville Penitentiary Three hundred and ten miles to the west, the full moon still loomed high in the sky, even as the sun began to rise over Lake Barkley and the long, four-story front of the state penitentiary at Eddyville, Kentucky. More than 150 years before, convicts under the direction of Italian stonemasons erected the prison atop a peninsula that jutted out into the deep waters of the lake. With its limestone ramparts, the battlement treatment along the prison's roofline, and its six hexagonal gun turrets, the rugged façade suggested not so much a penal institution as a medieval fortress. Indeed, prisoners doing time at Eddyville still referred to the Gothic structure by its nineteenth-century nickname -- The Castle. At that moment, deep within The Castle, a guard stepped into the grid of shadow and light cast by the steel bars of a cage painted a warning red. Lieutenant William "Billy" Lyons stood there for a moment, swigging coffee, his face screwed up in concentration. "Coming in, Andrews," he called out. "Coming in, Lieutenant." A steel sally door clanged open before him and Lyons stepped through. He was thirty-six, a dark-skinned black man. Six feet tall, 180 pounds with a weight-lifter's chest, powerful hands, and a boxer's broken nose, features made all the more imposing by a pair of intelligent, wary eyes. Copyright © 2002 by Suspense, Inc.