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BOOK REVIEW: THE JUDAS STRAIN
BY JAMES ROLLINS

We hope you enjoy this book review by Douglas R. Cobb.

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When the world ends, or life on the world ends, will it be with a bang or a whimper? Will it be because a titanic meteor hits the Earth, or will it be because friendly microscopic bacteria have their DNA invaded by viruses that form plasmids inside of them, transforming them into extremely deadly foes? Novels about the end of the world as we know it are as easy to find on the bestsellers’ lists as it is to locate cheese in Wisconsin, and some of them - too many - are formulaic and are the literary equivalent of a famous comedian "phoning in" his act. I’m glad that James Rollins’ novel The Judas Strain is a cut above the majority of the common herd, and is packed with uncommonly well-written, suspenseful, page-turning action. Oh, yeah - and there’s the man, the myth, the adventurer, explorer, and the legend Marco Polo and crew, in the role of the original Typhoid Marys, inadvertently spreading the Judas Strain beyond China.

The Sigma team is back again, an elite force of ex-military people, scientists, and historians, and are now under the aegis of Homeland Security. They’ve appeared in previous novels by Rollins, and this time they’re not only battling against the Guild, but also are combating a biological threat that shows that Mother Nature can be the ultimate terrorist of them all. If the Judas Strain can’t be stopped and a cure found, it could mean the extinction of most animal and human life on Earth.

Three subplots interweave with each other, following the efforts of three member of Sigma to defeat the Judas Strain and prevent the Guild from figuring out how to use it for their evil purposes. Dr. Lisa Cummings, a member of Sigma who holds a PhD in human physiology, is aboard the luxury cruise ship the Mistress of the Seas, having traveled to the remote Christmas Island to investigate a mysterious toxic cloud that had blown over the island, killing "a fifth of the population," and injuring the rest. She takes care of some of the patients who fled the island aboard the ship, and another scientist and Sigma member, Monk Kokkalis, who traveled with her, goes to the island with Dr. Richard Graf (not a Sigma member) to collect tissue specimens. Their experiences apart from each other make two of the subplots, until Monk goes back to the ship and their experiences together form a subplot.

What are they dealing with? A virus is responsible for changing bacteria that inhabit the soil into anthrax. Also, a virus is behind what changed another common bacteria into the one that caused the Black Plague. From the cases of beneficial bacteria in the human body being transformed into deadly ones that Monk and Lisa discover on Christmas Island, ranging from one (Propionibacterium) that acts like stonefish venom to one (Acetobacter aceti) that normally is in vinegar but is found in one victim’s spinal fluid and is pickling her brain, they come to the realization that the Judas Strain could potentially result in thousands of deadly diseases hitting humans and animals simultaneously.

Added to the doctors’ and scientists’ problems, the Guild has some of its members acting in the guise of pirates who attack Monk and Dr. Graff on the island, and also take over the cruise ship Lisa is on. They demand Lisa and the other doctors and scientists with the World Health Organization (WHO) aboard to cooperate with them to study the Judas Strain and find a cure for it, so they can use it for their own purposes. Monk, who escapes from the ones who attack him on the island, becomes Lisa’s only hope.

The third subplot revolves around Commander Gray Pierce who is working with a Guild agent who has appeared in previous Rollins books, Seichen, a woman who acts as an assassin for the Guild. She shows up in Gray’s life again roaring in on a motorcycle, shot, pursued by other Guild agents who want what she has - a black obelisk that potentially contains in its inscription (written in the Angelic language) and what is within it the cure for the Judas Strain. The duo travel all around the world tracing down clues that lead them from one exotic locale to the other, much like what happens in novels like the Da Vinci Code, and they have to learn the secret through a lost chapter of Marco Polo’s adventures before the Guild does.

A lot is at stake for Gray, as his parents have been kidnapped by the Guild, and if he doesn’t act as if he’s cooperating with them, they will torture and eventually kill his parents. The Judas Strain is a non-stop thrill ride that is hard to do justice to in a review. So much is going on literally simultaneously with the three main characters’ subplots that eventually merge together; that, to me, is a very compelling and savvy technique the author uses, to hold the readers’ interest and make them want to keep reading on. It’s an excellent book that can be thoroughly enjoyed on its own, even if you’re new (like I was) to the series. I highly recommend it.

REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS R. COBB

DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE REVIEWER, DOUGLAS R. COBB


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