HELIX by Desmond & Joel Shurkin Ryan

HELIX

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Another epidemic/disaster germ-arama -- this one set off when an overeager Arab grad student at Philadelphia's Reichler Institute secretly plays around with some recombinant-DNA research and releases a new, unidentifiable virus. But, once the Arab himself is dead, only luscious microbiologist Jennifer Starling knows what's what -- and at first no one will listen to her, especially not the Institute's stuffy director. Soon, however, she has gotten the ear of disease-control expert Alex Delfinar, and together they concentrate on identifying the virus by retracing the Arab's experiment (which involves a fugitive trip to Boston) . . . while everyone else -- the President, the Mayor, etc. -- is busy instituting a quarantine on inner-city Philadelphia, an armed guard with racist overtones and inevitable violent side effects. This scenario isn't devoid of potential, but authors Ryan and Shurkin (Philadelphia newsmen) never find a character or situation worth focusing on and instead bounce around from subplot to subplot (including some Palestinian guerrilla action), creating no tension and enlisting no sympathy. And despite some droplets of hard science (""I will load the sucrose and plasmid into a dialysis tube to dialyze overnight against the buffer""), along with a kindergarten lecture on DNA, the fearfulness of the DNA-research threat never grabs -- as it did so powerfully in Desmond Bagley's The Enemy (1977), for instance. So: some local-Philadelphia interest, perhaps (with links to both Legionnaire's disease and police brutality), but -- except for a nicely gruesome final twist -- lackluster and amateurish.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1979
ISBN: 0393336980
Publisher: Norton