Rating: 4 out of 5
Ray Garton’s novel Biofire: Author’s Preferred Edition is a blend of thriller, bio-thriller, horror, and science fiction. Genre-bending books can be really fun, and I enjoyed this one. It’s a re-issue; apparently the author considered updating it to the modern day but ultimately decided not to. Somehow the intro part explaining this devolved into a weird rant against cell phones, but hey.
Emma Shaw seems to have it all: she’s wealthy, she’s married to an incredibly handsome and charismatic man–Landon Shaw–and she’s beautiful. Unfortunately, Landon is also incredibly manipulative and abusive. He runs OdysseyCorp Lab, a business supposedly devoted to curing all the diseases of the world. Very few people know about the real business of OdysseyCorp: building bio-weapons. Emma has taken Leo, one of Landon’s “shadow clients” (the clients who buy those bio-weapons), as a lover, and hopes to use him to kill Landon. Meanwhile, Neil McNolte, a coke addict and journalist, owes a ton of money to a loan shark, and his means of paying it back went up in smoke. McNolte ends up at a mission on South Street, where Willy, Mama Charity, and P.W. do their best to help him out. Eventually Emma and McNolte meet up with each other and do their best to save their own butts–with some help from P.W. and his buddies.
Landon is completely evil, yet somehow stops short of being cartoonish. He has absolutely no care about anyone except himself. He’s brutal. There are two creepy stalker characters–one scientist who obsesses over Emma, and the scientist’s assistant who obsesses over him. The latter seems legitimately mentally ill, and of course is the one who devolves into violence despite the fact that in reality the mentally ill are more likely to be victims rather than instigators of violence. (There are some stereotypes that really hurt people, and this is one of them, so I’m not fond of it.) There are a lot of characters in here, and they’re all fairly interesting. P.W. is one of my favorites–he seems to have a devil-may-care attitude, but he’s been through some things that have left a really dark mark on him.
The bio-thriller part comes in when Emma becomes the subject of a brutal experiment. She learns to kill animals (and later people) with her mind. Part of the procedure involves brain surgery and part involves a synthetic virus, and the virus mutates to interesting effect.
A lot happens over the course of the book. It’s slow at first as we see McNolte’s slide into coke addiction. It’s extremely well-conveyed, but it goes on for quite a while in a level of detail I’m not convinced we needed. The events of the book happen over the course of a year or so, which is unusual for thrillers. Once past McNolte’s origins, the pace picks up nicely and keeps up. Overall I definitely enjoyed this book.
Content note: drug use, animal death, slurs, some torture