Prey's opening chapters are an intriguing, fast-paced read. The mystery level is high.
The story begins within a family household in Northern California. Jack Foreman, who is temporarily jobless, is a father just trying to raise his three children and run the household while his wife, Julia, is putting on long hours at "the office". During the period in which she is gone, he fights through the low self-esteem of unemployment, an exotic illness with his daughter, and the possibility of a cheating wife who has been acting extremely odd.
This does not seem like that gripping of an introduction, but it is kept up in such a fast pace, while at the same time Crichton keeps us completely in the dark as far as what is really going on. From seeing shadows, to forced entry, Jack is completely in over his head.
Well, half-way through Prey, the mystery starts to unfold after Jack is hired on at his wife's office. He is immediately helicopter'ed into their operating plant in Nevada where the rest of the book takes place and the plot shifts into a higher gear. Without spoiling anything major, his wife is working on an experimental project dealing in nano-technology. There initial hope was to use it as a micro-camera network that can not be disrupted. The "nano-swarm" escapes from the plant and continues to multiply into numerous storms, all evolving into higher intelligence. This is where the action begins. The is where my reading slowed down to a crawl.
Jack's "mysterious" wife is written out of the book because of a car accident. She will not appear until the ending. Jack's "name calling" kids have virtually no role in the second half of the story. We are now introduced to a new cast of characters: All of whom are uninteresting. Julia's (and now Jack's) co-workers have absolutely no memorable sequences, dialogue, or personality traits. The lead manager at the plant is Ricky Morse. Ricky, who has the most "page" time out of all of the coworkers, has no likeable qualities. He is instantly made the human antagonist (because the ultimate "bad guy" in the story is a swarm that doesn't talk). Then their is Charley, a man who apparently has no vocabulary outside of foul language. Do you remember a time when Crichton would never use such words, and now he forces them on you in the most awkward instances? Enter Charley's role.
Going back to the plot, we are introduced to some more dry dialogue explaining what has happened, and why everyone is panicking. A typical Crichton reader should know what to expect here: We, the reader, are the idiot; while the character's teach us endlessly. Once everything is explained, the action starts. Just like the characters, the action is also unexciting, and does not help in keeping the reader reading. The end of every chapter is made to be an obvious set up to keep you hooked. It reminded me of TV's "Batman" from the 60's.
Well, once we reach the last section in the novel, called "Prey" (A section name, not the book title), the pace quickens, and the mystery - that seemed to run far away into hiding - resurfaces. It almost makes you forget the dull mid-section.
This story is told in first-person perspective. I must say, Crichton did very well in keeping it smooth overall.
While this is not a horrible book by any means, Prey is not a top priority either.