THE BAG BOYS' JIHAD by Seymour Grufferman

THE BAG BOYS' JIHAD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A retired epidemiologist becomes convinced that recent cases of cholera are the first signs of a bioterrorist attack in this sequel.

Santa Fe resident Dr. Winston Sage doesn’t know why New Mexico’s reigning epidemiologist would ask him to join the new State Advisory Committee on Bioterrorism. Win’s field, after all, was cancer, not infectious diseases. But his retirement has sparked bouts of boredom so he agrees. While meetings largely consist of the members developing subcommittees (on topics like probable animal infections), Win seems to stumble on a real crisis. He deems two cases of cholera an epidemic, as there are only 8 to 10 each year in the U.S. More cases later crop up as well as other diseases, including E. coli, leading Win to suspect terrorist activity. He seeks assistance from the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, Dan Tilikso, with whom Win had worked while helping to search for his neighbor’s missing wife. Indeed, a group in Pakistan has initiated a plot against America. Although details are not immediately revealed, a key element involves U.S.-born Muslim teens getting jobs as grocery store bag boys around the country. Win speculates the infected citizens he has discovered are a mere trial run for a more widespread assault. As in Grufferman’s (The Warring States Conundrum, 2017) preceding novel, Win is a likable protagonist. He has strong opinions but is open to others’ suggestions; consequently, people listen to him, even if his early declaration of an epidemic sounds far-fetched. The author astutely shows the intricacies of the terrorists’ plan, especially the multitude of participants. Some are devout while others are horrified upon realizing the leaders consider certain individuals expendable. Intelligent dialogue makes discussions about various strains of disease perfectly comprehensible, aided by a steady momentum via brief chapters. Humor comes primarily from Win’s wife, Julia, whose sardonic comments are endearing. Once Win is entangled in the potential terrorist plot, she simply says: “I told you not to get involved with this dumb project.”

An absorbing jihadist thriller bolstered by complex villains and a winsome, levelheaded protagonist.

Page count: 332pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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