In the authors’ debut thriller, scientists worldwide are baffled when an apparent epidemic featuring strokelike symptoms can’t be traced to a virus or germ.
Studying humans’ longevity, CDC statistician Katie McMannloses is understandably upset when a couple of the women she’s been monitoring die. But the women were over 100 years old. What really gets Katie concerned is the unusually high rate of deaths among people 90 and over. The deaths seem to be the result of strokes, but in just a couple of days, the number of deaths in the U.S. hits a staggering 80,000. While scientists can’t find a virus or bacteria, Katie’s blood tests from the fatalities pinpoint six key markers. Katie surmises that what the CDC calls SDX, or “symptomatic disease unknown,” is somehow accelerating the aging process for internal organs, but she’s faced with another obstacle when she tests herself and learns she’s infected. So, too, are most others—except one negative: Katie and her husband Rob’s daughter, Hope. To find a cure, Katie desperately needs to locate another negative candidate before the world’s population is wiped out completely. Despite the global epidemic, the story is surprisingly small-scale, focusing mostly on Katie, her family and others at the CDC. This highlights the scientific approach and generates suspense as Katie tries to determine SDX’s origin and runs test after test in search of another person like Hope. The seemingly endless tests also slow down the plot considerably, and dialogue is filled with guesswork, theories or briefings—for people like the president—that often detail test results readers already know. Scenes with Katie at home with Rob and their three children help relieve the tension of the lab, while virus expert Dr. Ben Shah’s trip to Russia (SDX’s probable starting point) both expands the story beyond the U.S. and develops a supporting character; in fact, Ben’s former lover and daughter are over there. More traditional aspects of the thriller genre crop up late in the story, but they’re Katie-centric, including someone possibly following her and a potential threat on her life. The novel fares best when it sticks to the intercontinental ramifications, particularly in its powerful, dauntless coda.
Focuses on a disappointingly small part of the epidemic, but digging into the virus’s genesis and design makes for a riveting story.