A lonely career woman finds Mr. Right during an apocalyptic plague in this debut romantic thriller.
Karis Hylen, a 38-year-old graphic designer who despairs of New York’s commitment-phobic men, escapes the flu that’s going around thanks to her fear of germs—“Every time I heard someone cough, I squirted sanitizer into my hands”—and lack of social engagements. That saves her life when it emerges that the flu is a bioterror weapon that kills everyone infected and prompts the government to quarantine all of America east of Minnesota, thus turning half the country into an anarchic hellscape. Missing the last flight out for uninfected people because the authorities won’t let her dog, Zeke, on the plane, Karis holes up in her Queens apartment while New York becomes a graveyard. She scavenges food, scans the deserted streets, panics at every noise, and fights off murderous looters. But she stays connected thanks to the internet (the utilities stay on) and calls to her parents in California. She also forges a poignant but short-lived bond with two infected little girls in a neighboring apartment before they die. Karis’ funk starts to lift when she saves an injured man named Oliver Wakelin, a wealthy English heir whose “flat, toned stomach and bare chest” overcome her wariness. Flirting and sex ensue, and the two lovers and Zeke set out for the quarantine border in Iowa, braving more homicidal gangs and the Midwestern tornado season. Mabry’s pandemic scenario is only intermittently believable. She pens an absorbing survivalist procedural on everything from making candles to siphoning gasoline, but the government’s quarantine policies make no sense. And although Oliver regularly communicates with his parents in London, they never discuss using their fortune to rescue him. It sometimes feels like New York’s collapse is just a pretext to maneuver Karis into getting her groove back with a new hunk. Still, the author’s tense suspense scenes and haunting prose—watching a suicidal woman, Karis observes that “her eyes were sad and dazed, and I swore I saw the glistening of tears before she smiled….Her face was so pale that the redness around her mouth and nose was glaring against her white skin, stained by the blood”—often succeed in conjuring a world of claustrophobic menace.
A sometimes-gripping, sometimes-discordant tale that crams a blithe love story into a lugubrious doomsday epic.