A respite from the fantasy-like quality of reading imposed by my two challenges.  So on to science fiction in the realm of epidemiology for a little more reality hashed into the fiction.

Author :  Juris Jurjevics

First Publication Date :  August 18, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Viking Adult

ISBN-10: 0670034371

ISBN-13: 978-0670034376

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Something has killed four prominent scientists at the Trudeau station, a marvel of a habitat built  for the harsh environs of the Arctic.   Top scientists around the world who had come to the station to study this inhospitable frontier, are at a loss to explain the gruesome deaths of their colleagues.   The unknown “bug”  leaves its victims with their pupils missing and their bodies horribly contorted from excruciating spasms.

As an answer to the station’s plea for help, top epidemiologist Dr. Jessica Hanley braves the perils of the Arctic in winter to discover the nature and cure for the new disease.  No mean feat this, but on top of it, Dr. Hanley discovers a plan to sabotage her mission.  She must protect her work to find the “bug” and its cure as quickly as possible.

The Review :

The Trudeau Vector is a  biothriller with loads of  fascinating trivia.  It’s the trivia that thrills primarily over the formulaic plot.   It seems the author didn’t think much of the story line and simply followed what worked in the past with others.  He also does that “evil Russian” subplot to add  to the thrill  of the chase.   Corny but then again your concentration isn’t riveted on this angle.  It’s all on what malignant vector this author had cooked up.

What I think Jurjevics wanted to do was pack the book chock-full of info about the Arctic and epidemiology.   It really isn’t tedious if you were interested in the premise of diseases and environments in the first place. 

Take these little factoids:

“…Remember, viruses can’t really die.  They are not alive; they can’t reproduce unless they have living cells to hijack and turn into virus factories.  But toss the pieces of a virus in a test tube with living cells and it recombines, self-assembles, resurrects.”  — p. 191

“Inuit can’t do milk. We don’t have the extra enzymes to process it…”  —- p. 282

“…So what else is unusual about Inuit physiology, besides no body hair?”…” An extra artery near the heart.  Supposed to keep us warm.  We’re mostly right-handed, rarely left.  And we have small hands…”  — p.283

Some of you may want to know about the characters.  Well, character building is mediocre at best but not bad; however, Jurjevics does not make it clear what his characters are thinking.  For instance, the reader will be surprised why Dr. Hanley would  suddenly feel  like going to bed with one of the Trudeau scientists without a hint nor clue as to why she would.  Perhaps, depth is not much of an issue where thrillers are concerned, as action pacing is of prime importance.  In this, Jurjevics succeeds as the action unfolds in very good strides so that you do get engrossed in the novel.

For a debut novel, The Trudeau Vector is quite good and comes across as very well researched.  On the premise that it is so, then I have learned new things.  And I do love my fiction interspersed with hard facts.

However, I must say that the conclusion, about 5 pages toward the end,  left me a bit unsatisfied as its resolution was somewhat anti-climactic.  I guess I preferred a great bang of an ending to this one.  But then, the conclusion was plausible.  So not much complaint from me.

My Mark :  Very Good







Author :  Tom Rob Smith

Publication Date :  April 29, 2008  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

ISBN-10: 0446402389

ISBN-13: 978-0446402385

No. of pages : 448

The Story :

It is 1953.  Stalinist Russia is adamant at being a utopian state  where equality and  contentment are the core of its existence.  For where contentment thrives, there could be no crime or evil, the spawns of Western capitalism.

Leo Demidov is an officer of the MGB, the state secret police and guardian of these ideals.  Leo believes in the system and sees the necessity of arresting anyone that is remotely suspected of undermining those very goals.  Unfortunately in an environment that breeds mistrust, Leo falls victim to suspicion as well.

With a humiliating demotion in which he and his wife, Raisa, are shipped to a small town and his parents sent to live in squalor, Leo comes to terms with finally realizing the futility and wrongness of the communist system.

Meanwhile, the impossible has been happening.   Children are being murdered across one side of the country and all murders are brutally done in the same fashion.  A serial killer is on the loose,  but authorities refuse to consider the possibility of a Western style criminal in their midst.

To survive emotionally, Leo must have a purpose.  With a strong patriotic sense despite his disappointment in the government, Leo with his wife, Raisa, make it their personal missions to stop the murders and prove the existence of an insane killer,  one no one wants to admit to.

The Review

If I were to list books that have made an impression on me, Child 44 would definitely make that list.  It opens with a gripping first chapter which promises to keep you glued to the book ’til its end.

Tom Rob Smith does an admirable job of depicting the Soviet Union under the dangerous and repressive regime of Stalin with vivid descriptions of a dystopian society (only this was real) blanketed in fear, mistrust, and poverty.  His well-reasearched background aptly describes  Stalinist Russia where  its control-paranoid government assumed guilt until innocence was proven so that most of those arrested were summarily sentenced without adequate trial.  Moreover, in the pursuit of contentment and equality,  ideals of a communist society, it  was inconceivable for the system to admit to the existence of crime outside the political sphere;  hence criminal acts such as serial killing was an aberrant phenomenon maintained to be strictly a by-product of Western freedom and capitalism and therefore cannot exist logically in a communist state.

It is in this environment that his character, Leo, must root out a serial killer, defying official state denials of the existence of such a criminal.  Leo,  is an ardent believer of the Soviet system.  Everything Leo works for is for the collective  good.  As a ranking officer of the KGB’s predecessor, the MGB, he flushes out dissident citizens or those deemed to be dangerous to the state’s equilibrium and ideals.    But when Leo suddenly realizes that his latest prisoner was undoubtedly innocent,  his purpose of helping maintain the perfect state crashes to meaninglessness.   A real patriot at heart and despite a humiliating demotion, he decides to still have faith in his country , just not in his government, and sets about making a personal mission of rooting out a serial child killer, despite the dangers of incurring the disapproval of the MGB.

Smith injects great realism in this book.  His very much flawed hero deals with events that rarely reward his efforts,  believably true in such a milieu.   Moreover, he draws from genuine events in Russian history such as the Holodomor, the horrendous famine between 1932-1933 where millions, especially in the Ukraine, perished of starvation.  Accounts have mentioned numerous cases of cannibalism at this time.  These, the Gulags,  the excesses of  party leaders, the general misery and hopelessness  were hushed behind an Iron Curtain which trapped all that did not conform to the Communist ideals of a utopia.    The angle of the serial killer is patterned after a true-to-life Soviet child murderer,  Andrei Chikatilo, nicknamed The Butcher of Rostov or The Red Ripper, who sexually abused, tortured, and murdered women and children,  from 1978-1990.  The author simply borrows his story and places it within the timeframe of 1953.

The writing is predominantly narrative;  characters’ spoken lines aren’t many and are all in italics, a rather uncommon lay-out which veers from the traditional presentation of a dialogue.   It’s refreshingly different but it works quite well.

As a debut novel, Child 44 is superb.  The strongest asset of this book  is it’s well developed atmosphere.  The setting is palpable, the characters and events seem so real that I could not stop turning the pages until I reached the end at 3:30 a.m.  However, it isn’t perfect and sadly, events toward the ending came out a bit contrived and questionable which tarnished the reading experience a bit.   It is just a teeny blight, however, not enough to render the book a disappointment.    In fact, other readers may be perfectly happy with its conclusion.   Overall, a marvelous, marvelous read!


My Mark :  Outstanding!   (Would have merited Excellence, if not for that little smudge)