Picks and Pans Review: Utopia

updated 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Lincoln Child
Page-turner of the week

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As much as Americans like theme parks, maybe we like stories about them going violently wrong even better. Child's latest is a beautifully crafted scare-fest that will take its place beside two Michael Crichton classics, Westworld and Jurassic Park.

Utopia, the park, fills up an entire canyon outside Las Vegas under a vast dome. The brainchild of magician cum entertainment mogul Eric Nightingale, it's a playground of full-immersion environments and rides, with the magic coming from holograph-generating technology. We discover Utopia through the eyes of Andrew Warne, a robotics expert who has come with his teenage daughter for a job. Soon all find themselves under assault Die Hard-style by a paramilitary team of high-tech thieves, with Warne as Bruce Willis uttering the yippee-kay-ays.

Utopia's gadgetry is heaven for techno-thriller fans, and the threats from the sabotaged attractions are startlingly inventive, but Child's characters are so interesting that the ending seems too abrupt. Here's hoping for a sequel. (Double-day, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: High-tech joyride

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