'Option Lock' is a brilliant title for a book. It rolls of the tongue, a bit like 'Shadow Proclamation'. It's mysterious too (or at least I thought so), which is appropriate given that the plot itself is a whodunit (and what have they dun?) I like the fact that Justin Richards manages to provide little clues for the reader to discover before the Doctor and Sam work out what's going on. For example, I had cottoned onto the fact that Silver was a variation on Siolfor long before it occurred to the Doctor.
What this does is enable the reader to do the book equivalent of 'it's behind you!' Crucially, there's enough going on here for Richards to reveal his clues without spoiling the plot of the book. Several characters' motivations are unclear from the outset, and there are other curious riddles to decipher, such as the paintings that caused a man to kill himself.
When the revelations came, many of them did literally cause me to experience pangs of excitement, which doesn't tend to happen often. The final revelation is simply brilliant, and it's a testament to Richards' writing that I wasn't expecting it at all, despite the fact that having finished the book, it does seem like it should have been obvious.
The fact that Option Lock's primary location is an old English house arouses the suspicion that this is going to be a tired old retread of the 'bump in the night' format, but I'm pleased to say that isn't the case at all. There are strange goings on, but they're not related to the supernatural, and the wide variety of locations in Option Lock makes it all the more interesting when we do go back to the house to see what's going to happen there next.
Some of the action sequences are bursting with tension, such as the sniper in the US and the release of the warheads from Station 9. However, there are some slower sections where the book gets quite technical (in particular when talking about the nukes.) Those didn't hold my attention very well.
The Doctor and Sam are both well characterised, with the Doctor seeming very much like the flawed genius we know him to be. I even liked Sam, she wasn't whiny, she wasn't stupid, she was more like the wise-cracking smartarse modern companion she should always have been. The other main characters are left somewhat undefined. They're likeable, sure, but they're more partially fleshed out than fully fleshed out.
One other thing - the chapter headings for most chapters are taken from the last paragraph of the previous chapter, which I found to be an interesting and clever idea. This is something that could very easily have seemed out of place, but it's handled remarkably well.
So, Option Lock is a hugely enjoyable story that encourages you to work things out for yourself, it draws you into the mysterious and shadowy government world and for the most part keeps you interested throughout. A very good novel and a nice surprise that it turned out to be so good.
Review by Tom Hey