OCTOBER BIRDS by Jessica Smartt Gullion


A novel about pandemic influenza, infection control, and first responders
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Gullion’s debut thriller offers an account of a pandemic in a small Texas town, and how it affects the medical specialists and citizens there.

All’s well in Dalton, Texas, a town with a population of 115,000. The most exciting calls Dr. Eliza Gordon, chief epidemiologist of the City of Dalton Public Health Department, usually gets are food-poisoning cases. That changes, however, when an Indonesian doctor, Sitala, comes to town to give a lecture, and he suddenly comes down with a severe case of the flu. Doctors quickly realize that he has H7N1, a disease that’s killing thousands of people in his home country. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, they’re unable to save him. Soon after, many more people in Dalton come down with the disease, starting with those who were directly exposed to Dr. Sitala, and it soon spreads to many others. It doesn’t take long before Dalton is experiencing a full-on pandemic, and those who remain unaffected must figure out how to treat the disease and contain its spread. The novel provides an intriguing look at how a small, unequipped town might actually handle a serious health crisis, portraying the situation from multiple perspectives. Gullion presents many different characters who play roles in handling the disease, including the aforementioned Dr. Gordon; Geoffrey Robins, a disease investigator; Benjamin Cromwell, an infectious-disease expert at the town’s main hospital; Cassandra, a religious healer; and many, many more. The book is part of the Social Fictions Series, a collection of full-length novels that are “informed by social research” but written in a literary style, so it’s filled with interesting epidemiological facts and lots of medical information. However, some of the prose may be too technical for the lay reader (“No growth as of yet on the blood and CSF cultures. CSF was clear. He’s leucopenic”). Also, despite the suspenseful plot, the book offers little emotional payoff, instead providing a morose, foreboding look at what might happen during a real emergency. While its predictions might be accurate, readers will likely find it disconcerting and chilling.

A very grim but often compelling thriller.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2014
ISBN: 978-9462095892
Page count: 162pp
Publisher: Sense Publishers
Program: Kirkus Indie
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