A super-lethal, fast-spreading bacterium that eats its victims from the inside out is decimating U.S. troops in Afghanistan and posing the threat of a pandemic.
To collect rare biomatter that works as an antidote, members of a top-secret disease-control agency risk their lives in the deepest and scariest caves of Mexico. If the dangers of spelunking—or a violent army of local drug dealers—don't thwart them, a mole working for a nefarious international group might. Since being drummed out of BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) a year ago on false charges, expert caver Hallie Leland has been running a dive shop in northern Florida. Though still bitter over her treatment, she agrees to lead a government expedition thousands of feet beneath a remote forest—"Journey to the Center of the Earth, but worse"—when her onetime mentor spells out the global threat of the drug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii. In Afghanistan, Army nurse Lenora Stilwell is risking her life tending to soldiers infected by the ACE, possibly through their widespread use of tampons to stanch wounds. Like Leland, she must cope with male superiors more interested in following procedure and saving face than saving lives. Tabor, a bestselling nonfiction writer (Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, 2010, etc.), makes a solid debut as a novelist. The narrative is a bit lumpy, the suspense a bit forced: Hallie is subjected to more near-death experiences than the story can bear. But she's a strong, appealing protagonist, as is Stilwell in her brief scenes. And with his evocative descriptions, Tabor succeeds in portraying the mysterious Cueva de Luz (Cave of Light) as a living, evolving, spiritually charged organism. The outcome may be conventional, but the writing brims with intelligence.
A smart, informative debut thriller with a pair of assertive heroines that draws us into the strange wonders of inner space.