In this debut medical thriller, a pair of Afghanistan War vets investigates mysterious deaths at a research center developing a new rabies vaccine.
Two and a half years ago, in the desert outside Kandahar, a bomb blast rocked the mobile communications van run by Capt. Alton Blackwell of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Only he and Sgt. Zach Lambert, who was off shift at the time, survived. Working through physical therapy, Alton healed with a limp. Reassignment to desk duty in Kabul’s Command and Control division should have been torture, but his friendship with military accountant Mallory Wilson kept him optimistic. Now, Alton and Zach work in Georgia for the telecom security firm Kruptos Inc., and Mallory works for the FBI in Washington, D.C. She and Alton don’t reunite until strange cases of hemophilia—a bleeding disorder—break out near the Georgia-North Carolina border. Zach, who goes camping in the quiet, supposedly secluded area, discovers the source firsthand; scientists from Research Triangle Park spray him with the airborne—as well as still experimental and potentially deadly—Rabinil vaccine. With a craving for justice, Alton the cryptographer and Mallory the forensic accountant team up to investigate the fallout. They follow winding paper and electronic trails while dodging agents with a murderous agenda. Readers will be absorbed by Freeman’s never-flashy expertise: “I have a ‘rabbit hole’ application that...bounces your [laptop’s] signal all over the planet and...renders our current location untraceable for a little while.” The motives of scientists and federal employees are tightly interlocked, and humor peppers their conversations. For instance, when a man named Perkins says that Mallory is cute, Alton says, “No, she isn’t your type.” “What is her type, bro?” Perkins asks, to which Alton replies, “Intelligent.” Occasionally, superb touches of eeriness creep in: “dried leaves blowing across the parking lot began to form patterns, and the details of the investigation soon filled his mind.” One minor failing, however, is that Freeman introduces his principal characters primarily by telling readers about them rather than using dialogue and plot to flesh them out.
A heady thriller that gathers force with the understated menace of a tidal wave, then smashes home.