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REAPER by Ben Mezrich

REAPER

By Ben Mezrich

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-018751-4
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Mezrich's second technothriller (after Threshold, 1996) charts the progress of two All-American Perfect Specimens in their race against the clock to stop a rogue communications virus from wiping out most of the TV-watching and computer-literate population. Nick Barnes is a ruggedly handsome former surgeon with a crippled hand who now works as a paramedic at Boston General. Samantha Craig is a young and gorgeous virologist who works for USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases), which is assigned to investigate mysterious deaths, apparently virally caused, though they've occurred in widely separated locales (including Boston). And Telcon, the brainchild of black leader Marcus Teal, is a fabulously successful communications company (it's usurped Microsoft's position) that falls under suspicion when Nick and Samantha (who quickly get beyond their initial mutual mistrust, and into each other's arms) deduce that ``a freak modulation of light emitted through a television screen'' is randomly killing people. In parallel scenes juxtaposed with Nick's and Samantha's increasingly heated pursuit of the super-virus, we learn that Marcus Teal's nationwide electronic hookup is part of a plan to reshuffle contemporary priorities; that Marcus's second-in- command, Melora Parkridge, whose father was a victim of chemical warfare, ``intends to use technology to kill technology''; and that Ned Dickerson, a Telcon technician who accidentally stumbles onto secrets he only half-understands, may be the most dangerous of them all. The story moves along quite briskly, considering the author's habit of downloading reams of undramatized information about electricity, ophthalmology, various branches of medicine, and fiber optics. But its characters are cardboard and its denouement, which features a shoot-out in Telcon's main computer room and some of the hoariest dialogue this side of 1950s monster movies, is also a letdown. About on a par with Robin Cook, and a couple of cuts below Michael Crichton. Wait for the (inevitable) movie. ($300,000 ad/promo; author tour)