Fox’s scientific-thriller debut, the first in a series, has scientists scrambling to contain and identify a mysterious infection in a small California community before it becomes a full-scale plague.
Cell and molecular biologist Dr. David Tollner is just visiting lady friend Lynne in Crowley Lake when he gets caught in a quarantine. It seems people have been getting sick—some have died—from an infection whose symptoms include sudden weight gain and skin turning green. David joins Dr. Di Johnson’s team to help pinpoint the disease’s cause and means of transmission. After David surmises that a photosynthetic cell is somehow fusing with a human cell, he further determines that the infection isn’t a naturally occurring event but rather someone’s deliberate act. The team struggles to find answers before the disease spreads uncontrollably. Fox’s thriller wades into sci-fi waters with the introduction of Ernie, one of the infected who survives. He has a “new body,” one that’s stronger than before and needs little food. It’s also mostly green: while hiding in the woods, Ernie is mistaken for an alien by a father and two sons, leading to suspenseful scenes of Ernie dodging the trio hellbent on capturing him. Early on, Fox reveals the infection’s source: the person(s) responsible and what specifically causes it to spread. Readers are then treated to intense moments when, for example, it’s apparent that some friends’ fly-fishing trip is unlikely to end well. Recurring scientific discussions occasionally go on for too long, while some advanced terminology—David says synthetic cells “infect intestinal epithelial cells, the enterocytes, which then infect dendritic cells”—will be lost on most readers. In the same vein, naming the infection—Sunny’s Disease (from one of the first victims) vs. Sunny Disease (a photosynthesis reference)—invariably becomes an unnecessarily long debate among characters. Fox offers a reprieve from the science details with personal touches, like the budding romance between David and Di, whose periodic flirting remains unaffected by the frightening possibility of humanity’s doom. The story also provides resolution while leaving groundwork for a sequel.
Overexplains the disease but still an insightful, composed story to spark a series.