It’s All Hallow’s Eve tonight___a perfect time to tuck yourself between the covers of a good, scary read. Oooooooo……now to shiver and shake with the ghoulish and the macabre.

But, what can be more chilling than a story with the probability that it could be terrifyingly real?  A story that could happen today, tomorrow, next month or ten years hence but may be percolating secretly under our very noses?

So, chuck the vampires, ghosts, and goblins this year and settle in with The Cobra Event.  It terrified a President*; it will scare the bejesus out of you.

Author : Richard Preston

Release Date : 1997
ISBN : 0-245-40997-3
Pages : 422

A teen-age schoolgirl dies suddenly in bloody, gruesome spasms.  Soon after, previously healthy people succumb violently and inexplicably to the same terrifying end.  Dr. Alice Austen, CDC pathologist, races to identify the killer pathogen…  Thus starts a harrowing investigation  into bio-terrorism.

“Ho-hum”, you’re probably thinking, “…another biotech thriller…not very halloweenish, is it?”  But you want to be scared; and, Richard Preston is no ordinary techno-thriller author.  He writes with the intense objective of rendering us, acutely aware of the genuine, immediate threats facing humanity today.  I feel Preston must have had the urgent need to share his private alarm and agitation; and what more clever way than to couch his facts in a racy, heart-pounding fictional story that’s guaranteed to have mass appeal and thereby higher public awareness and attention to bio warfare.

If you believe in devils, believe in microscopic demons that can transform the world into a living Hell.  Imagine a pandemic of global proportions, the like that can eclipse the horrors of the black plague in the 14th century.  Grave possibilities are magnified to terrifying levels when the threat can be carried out anywhere, by anyone, psychologically imbalanced enough and with the know-how to concoct and release fast-acting lethal viruses, genetically modified to survive modern medicines.

Preston’s incredibly detailed narratives reveal his intimate knowledge and meticulous research in everything he touches on in this book.  One could actually surmise that he has probably dabbled in real autopsies and spied rogue labs.  My edition even has a photo of the baculovirus, the real germs on which this fictional Cobra virus is based on.  In his afterword, “The Reality Behind the Cobra Event”, Preston writes :

“I pursued the subject of biological weapons with the same reporting methods I’ve used for my previous books, which were nonfiction.  The nonfiction roots of this book run deep.”

“The transparent substance I call ‘viral glass’ in this book is an actual material. I have chosen not to give its technical name or describe it too precisely.  I have deliberately distorted and blurred certain key aspects of the bioweapons-making process so as not to publish a deployable recipe.”

“The natural strain of the virus in this book is real, and engineered strains of it have been developed with a broadened host range.  The virus has great peaceful potential because it is so versatile.  Its versatility also makes it a potential weapon.  I have imagined the engineered form of the virus that appears here as Cobra, but it should be taken as one example of a wide range of possibilities that actually exist for the construction of advanced bio-weapons.  The knowledge is public, the techniques are commonplace.  The dark apple hangs on the tree.”

“What is dangerous is human intent…To think that the power of the genetic code is not being bent toward weapons is to ignore the growing body of evidence, the lessons of history, and the reality of human nature.  As Thucydides pointed out, hope is an expensive commodity.  It makes better sense to be prepared.”

So what’s not to be afraid of, if our demons can simply be tank-brewed in an obscure lab in any location___in a top secret military facility, your neighbour’s basement, or even at the back of a delivery van?  The scare is here and it is REAL!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

*“THE BOOK THAT PETRIFIED THE PRESIDENT :  “Mr. Clinton was so alarmed by…THE COBRA EVENT, which portrays a lone terrorist’s attack on New York City with a genetically engineered virus—that he instructed intelligence experts to evaluate its credibility.” — The New York Times

My Mark : Excellent

Advertisements

Author : Allan Folsom

Release Date : December 26, 2006

Former police detective Nicholas Marten gets an anguished call from an old flame who is wife to a recently dead U.S. Congressman.  She tells him she is dying of an infection, which she believes was purposely injected.  Her death immediately sends Marten off to an investigative hunt that brings him and U.S. President John Henry Harris together on a harrowing trail toward an old, secret Machiavellian brotherhood with a five-century lust for world power.

This, is a novel on adrenaline.  It’s a fast ride…so pumped up that you actually won’t mind the lack of character development.  No time for that, anyway.  With the number of plot surprises, you’ll just want to know: “What next?”.

From the first page to the last, I felt I was running on a literary treadmill, racing through pages as though I were powered on an energy drink. The action was relentless; and I came out breathless in the end.  I need to get my second wind, though, as the story will run on and on…the book is set up for a sequel.

A lot of reviews have commented that Allan Folsom could have done better and that this effort isn’t up to par with his other books.  Perhaps, true, as the only special thing about it is its whirlwind pace.  A pretty routine thriller, as Publishers Weekly would put it, and for others, a really tall tale.  But what it lacks in plausibility, it makes up for in entertainment.  Well, what’s a thriller for, anyway? Ha, ha!  Oh, and I think it’ll be great on the big screen, too.

One teensy note : There  was the “sniper element” that I felt was just extraneous to the plot. No matter, it does make a good thread for a follow-up.

I enjoyed my run with this zippy novel.  If indeed this book is sub-par, then the author must be a very good one.  This is my first Folsom book, and as it is, this novel is quite a thriller—great for those long waits at the airport.

My Mark : In between Good and Outstanding — Great!