Solidly entertaining biotech-thriller debut with enough romance and nuance to keep it out of the men's hardware ghetto.
Despite the occasional misstep (“The swollen blood vessels of Asher's brain began to burst, like balloon animals drifting into the barbecue”), MacAlister has created likable and believable protagonists and sent them through a smart plot at an agreeable rate. Though by no means tamed, Conor Gale has grown tired of his brawling, pool-hustling, drifter's life. Returning to D.C. to work for Chapmans, a private security firm founded and run by Mickey Sullivan, whose family adopted Conor as a boy, he notices an unlikely string of accidents associated with client pharmaceutical firm, SeaGenesis. Smart and sexy Marine biologist Zee Aspen, head of SeaGenesis's Caribbean research station is investigating naturally occurring drugs, with an emphasis on a promising sponge. When her best friend, conducting research at SeaGenesis stateside, is killed in a carjacking, Zee attends the funeral and meets Conor, who shares his suspicions that there is something shady about her employer. As more incidents raise more suspicions, Conor and Zee find themselves piecing together a puzzle involving the CIA, Mickey Sullivan, an incurable strain of malaria, Zee's new drug, which just might cure it, and a conscience-stricken Vietnamese terrorist. The pace picks up with ugly revelations of Mickey Sullivan's past, and the threat of thousands of deaths from malaria, as Zee and Conor yield to their mutual attraction and then develop mutual trust. Crises are averted and questions are answered in a conclusion that remains emotionally true to the characters.
More complex and more assured than most first novels in the genre: a satisfying diversion from a promising newcomer.