The men of North Bend (Washington) Fire and Rescue like to kid their lieutenant about the women in his life. No matter how fierce the conflagration or big-time the accident, they say, Jim Swope will bird-dog his way to the prettiest female involved. Although that’s stretching it, of course—Jim’s a conscientious, highly skilled professional—it’s still how he meets Holly Riggs, likes her, and then, soon enough, wishes he’d never set eyes on her. Not that any of the subsequent misery is really her fault: The truck she’s driving smashes into a tractor-trailer, sending both vehicles into a helpless skid on icy I-90 that leaves 300 Bibles unintentionally distributed and 800 maddened chickens wreaking havoc. It takes six North Bend citizens, including Jim, to clean up the mess—an unlucky number, inasmuch as all six, plus Holly, catch whatever plague-like infection the collision has let loose. At first, they simply call it “the syndrome,” something that sneaks up on its victims, allowing ample time for denial. Once it takes hold, however, its seven-day cycle is inflexible: Seven days of steady debilitation, then zombie-like coma. What is the murderous substance at the syndrome’s root? Who’s responsible for spreading it? And is it possible—desperate hope—that there’s an antidote? Either Jim finds answers to these life-and-death questions or, he’s told grimly, “Say goodbye to the people you love.”
Sluggish and gloomy. Reliable Emerson (Vertical Burn, 2002, etc.), who’s fought his share of real-life fires, uncharacteristically fails to light one here.