Pros: Tense action and fascinating bio-terrorism plot
Cons: Dialogue is a little awkward; some stereotypes
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review book provided by author.
A brief aside: Bio-thrillers are one of my favorite fiction genres. Unfortunately, since I make that public on my list of the kinds of books I’m willing to review, I’ve found that a number of authors simply tell me “it’s a bio-thriller!” when there’s little thriller and even less bio-. They seem to think it’ll get me to review their book and then I’ll magically love it and give it high marks despite the bait-and-switch. However, like any reader I get really annoyed with a book if it isn’t what was advertised. So I’ve become wary of people offering me bio-thrillers to read. In the case of The Chimera Sequence by Elliott Garber, I actually got what I wanted!
Cole McBride is a veterinarian and in the US military. He’s studying infectious diseases in Africa, particularly looking at the silverback gorillas. He has a chopper pilot and a couple of park rangers working with him, and they discover something terrible: an entire group of gorillas that succumbed to an extremely virulent disease. Only one gorilla lived, a baby that they took in and attempted to nurse back to health. Unfortunately for them, the illness can pass from gorilla to human, although having received the smallpox vaccine seems to provide some immunity. As a result, Cole is forced to watch as Marna, the chopper pilot and his possible love interest, becomes more and more ill. Soon Cole discovers that the virus has started to spread to the local population–unfortunately he learns this after being captured by a militant group with a history of extreme violence. Soon whispers of a terrorist plot start, one that could bring a quick death to a large portion of the United States.
Disclaimer: I’m neither military nor a scientist, so I can’t judge how realistic (or ridiculous) those parts of this book are. (Although living in the DC area meant I occasionally got a kick out of the local parts. The only part of the book that grated on me at all was the too-convenient placing of Cole’s sister Anna in DC.) I can only say that most of it read right to me.
The dialogue could use a little polishing–it felt awkward or stilted in some places. However, this seemed to improve as the story moved on and Garber hit his stride.
Some of the characters are definite stereotypes. A few live long enough to take on additional dimension (in particular another doctor in Africa) while others die or move on before they could get past that first dimension. Some of those characters could have used a bit more complexity.
I loved the choice of Cole as main character. His military experience combined with veterinary knowledge and study of diseases made him the perfect character for the plot. He isn’t perfect, and has his asshole moments as well as his hero moments, which is really nice. His profession worked interesting new angles into the plot. It’s fascinating to watch the variety of working dogs mixed up into the tale.
It was all too easy to see how terrorists might create a bio-weapon that can be used even in the heart of DC, where we expect to be held safe by all of the protections in place. Thus there was plenty of tension and suspense. The pace of the story worked well, and I found it difficult to put the book down for long.
I’d certainly be willing to read more by Garber if it came across my desk.