Dr. Sean Nolan, on the CDC’s radar after his acute medical detective work identified the source of a devastating cancer cluster, receives an official call from the center regarding an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the farming communities of Southern California.
E.W. Johnson’s verily prescient medical thriller VIRULENCE delivers a lightening-paced narrative of Dr. Nolan’s hunt for the source of the pandemic and the nefarious customs that made it so deadly. As equally sudden and unexplainable as the pandemic’s appearance is its seemingly complete disappearance, leaving a double mystery that Nolan realizes will take a superior detective mind. He thusly enlists the help of his long-time research assistant Eileen Carson, the two setting out for the Southern California area that just a couple weeks before was a Legionnaire’s hotzone. With the medical survey information gathered by the CDC as a jumping off point, Nolan and Carson begin a meticulous canvas of specific locations affected by the disease and the possible pathways by which the disease could have reached these places. When they meet with the three surviving patients of four stricken by the disease at one farm which was hit relatively hard by the pandemic they are received rather icily by those men who run the place. That reception and a hastily written note passed to Nolan by one of the patients lead him to believe that there are some below-board goings on that – though they may or may not be related to the outbreak – do deserve his attention. His continued nosing around evokes tacit warnings for him to keep out of that farm’s business. Nolan is not deterred, but when the warnings become violent and nearly fatal he calls for backup. Mercenary Jed Marcus is an ops specialist with whom Nolan has worked before. Together with Marcus’ small team they turn up the detective work to a higher level, and through a series of adventures that resemble a cross between Rambo and Mission Impossible discover not only the source of the outbreak but the activities at the farm that made the outbreak that much harder to control.
With that dense of narrative structure there is always a chance that the pacing of that narrative– especially in a genre that relies so heavily on pacing–might suffer a slow down. Thankfully that’s not the case here as Johnson’s craft maintains the quickshots of activity while still carrying the story’s page-turning validity. Any short stretches where the pacing lags are effortlessly smoothed over by the colloquialism of the interplay that the author has afforded the players in his drama.
Fans of medical thrillers and mercenary justice tales will not be disappointed by VIRULENCE — a tense, meticulously-crafted and eerily topical action saga.
~Johnny Masiulewicz for IndieReader