In this debut thriller and series opener, a doctor tries to keep her father’s miracle-drug formula away from a fiendish company marketing a vaccine that’s outright lethal.
Dr. Martina Strömstedt Edgren loses both parents in a car accident that her 5-year-old son, Joachim, mercifully survives. Her father, Peter, had founded Althonat in New York; the medical research company manufactures alternative natural boosters. Martina, who oversaw the opening of Althonat’s Stockholm branch where she’s CEO, is shaken by Dr. Steven Rangor, an American who suddenly appears at her parents’ funeral. Claiming to have worked for Peter, Rangor surprisingly knows of his confidential project, a new natural booster. Martina later learns Rangor may have ties to Life-Vaccine, which Citaraph Pharmaceuticals is selling as a life-prolonging drug. Not only is Life-Vaccine toxic, it also contains portions of Rensblad, Peter’s wonder drug. Sinister individuals, collectively called the Group, are conducting illegal experiments on people and somehow have half the Rensblad formula—and want the other half. Martina is soon an obstacle: she noses around the Group’s clinic where a neighbor’s son is likely held and launches a cell antidote to counteract Life-Vaccine. Everyone is in danger of the deadly drug, but the Group may first target Martina. Justine’s thriller boasts a strong female protagonist who’s both intelligent and resolute. Frequent perspectives from the villains provide an ever present menace, even if accompanying details are occasionally excessive. One particularly irate bad guy, for example, “breathed fire through his dragon nostrils.” But there are ample shocks, from the Group’s mole to the genuine and appalling purpose of Life-Vaccine. Engrossing melodrama is likewise interspersed throughout: Martina seems torn between her ex-husband (and Joachim’s dad), Thomas, and her current lover (and employee), Dr. Jonas Eneroth. Relationship turmoil does unfortunately monopolize the final act when a woman’s surprise appearance threatens Martina and Jonas’ romance. Nevertheless, a cliffhanger ensures that readers will keep their eyes out for the sequel.
Plentiful suspense and an indelible protagonist foster a gratifying medical tale.