The Black Death rears its ugly head in staid, modern-day Oxford.
American scholar Daniel Warren has a grim subject at Oxford. He’s researching an outbreak of the bubonic plague that decimated a small, nearby village in the 14th century. As it happens, his good friend Dr. Rajiv Mahendra is treating a patient who has symptoms much like those of the plague and who was working on a construction site very close to that old village. Rajiv, displaying disturbingly bad judgment, allows Daniel to come take a look at the patient for a live example of what he’s been studying in the abstract. Patient starts violently coughing, at which point Rajiv sends Daniel hurrying out of the hospital and quarantines the patient’s room. On his way out, Daniel runs into a local reporter, Therry Moon, who’s doing a story on the hospital. He promptly tells Therry everything he knows about the situation, and the two of them join up for some flirtatious badinage and sleuthing. It soon becomes clear that the plague could indeed be alive and well in present-day England. And Millar, a former foreign correspondent for London’s Sunday Times, takes pains to remind readers that sporadic episodes have popped up many times in recent years without causing a pandemic. In Oxford, conspiracy and cover-ups are looked into by a surprisingly calm Daniel and Therry, while Rajiv frets over medical ramifications. The scenario is just begging for a heart-pounding Robin Cook Outbreak–style display of military action, with soldiers in chemical protection suits shutting down the old city and enacting martial law. But Millar’s writing is comparatively tame—and in fact, though avoiding an “Oh, dear God!” hyperactivity, it feels curiously bereft of energy.
Still, a solid enough read with an informed perspective on the plague that will satisfy readers but probably not thrill them.