Psychological profiler Sylvia Strange keeps matching wits against ever-more-daunting adversaries. Now, like a successful video-game heroine, she’s graduated from a fictional version of the Unabomber (Dantes’ Inferno, 2001) to a bioterrorist who could have stepped out of tomorrow’s headlines.
For several years now, somebody has been dispatching an unknown number of victims (6? 10? 15?) with a range of neurotoxins so frighteningly varied that nobody’s suspected a thing—until the FBI connects the demise of Doug Thomas—a Los Alamos toxicologist who was moonlighting on some sinister scheme when he killed himself in a senseless auto collision while he was feeling no pain—to that of Samantha Grayson, a biochemical graduate assistant in London’s Porton Down research center whose distraught fiancé, Paul Lang, just happens to be an analyst for British Intelligence. Before the curtain even goes up on the ensuing investigation, the somebody has already been identified as Dr. Christine Palmer, a brilliant neurotoxin researcher whose late father, Dr. Fielding Palmer, was an even more celebrated immunologist and AIDS expert. Christine, counterterrorist expert Edmond Sweetheart tells Sylvia, is one cold piece of work, a calculating, possessive, dispassionate scientist who likes to watch her victims’ slow deaths up close not because she’s sadistic but because she’s curious. And sure enough, after a couple of singularly unrevealing rounds of investigation at Los Alamos and Porton Down, Christine, who’s much too smart to leave any evidence or let the swarming authorities get under her skin, has a chance to get up close and personal with the latest victim in her sights: about-to-be-married Sylvia, who’s sure she’s being poisoned but can’t figure out how.
A killer whose emotional remoteness is less scary than simply blank, coupled with Lovett’s plodding habit of explaining everything under the sun, from the mission of MI-6 to the meaning of “angelita,” makes Sylvia’s fifth outing less threatening than a morning newspaper.