A renegade virus strikes Baltimore and challenges the ethics of the medical community in med-student Spanogle’s tightly woven debut thriller.
Several female inmates of homes for the “mentally impaired” are isolated in a Baltimore hospital for an unidentifiable, lethal virus that has doctors flummoxed. Could this be a bioterrorist attack? Nathaniel McCormick, 33, an officer in Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is brought in to help determine the cause of the trouble and soon alienates officials with his brash, aggressive handling of the clues: All the women seem to have been preyed upon sexually by fellow inmate Douglas Buchanan, whose cell-phone calls tie him to someone in San Jose, Calif. When this vector turns up dead, Nathan is sent to California to investigate. He hooks up with his former colleagues at The Farm, a so-called university in Silicon Valley, where he once pursued microbiology under illustrious mentor Harriet Tobel, before being kicked out for his doctoring of facts. The second part of the novel takes off brilliantly in California, as Nathan gradually uncovers The Farm’s secret research on brain-dead humans. Moreover, the ghastly truth emerges when Dr. Tobel, shortly before her mysterious heart-attack death, leaves Nathan a videotape of a rape of one of these human subjects in a hospital room. Cleverly, Spanogle weaves in McCormick’s flawed, shameful past, including his painful love affair with the heartless researcher Alaine Chen.
Readers of this engrossing and intellectually wrought first novel will happily await Spanogle’s next.