Containment by Hank Parker – bio-terrorism by numbers. As bio-terrorism thrillers go this one is novel in how it uses ticks as the weapon of destruction. However, despite the author having a wealth of knowledge in this subject, it never really convinces at a political level.
The introduction is the big picture with a farmer becoming ill. With the ensuing deaths from the Kandahar virus the authorities quarantine the community and slaughter the animals. We never properly return to the farm but we do pop in to the community under quarantine to see how it is coping but it lacked sufficient connection to the main plot.
The whole novel is full of snippets of chaos in USA that are only there to remind us in a blunt way this is a global crisis – sadly this device just looks awkward. The attempt to explain that the virus has caused riots and looting with migration from the cities is distracting – throwing in unconnected chapters feels like a cynical device for a potential movie adaption.
We are introduced to Doctor Vector whose motive, when disclosed, isn’t really well thought out. We then all to go to the Philippines where he has a laboratory for his ticks – but the location seems random – good for a movie version? Although he himself becomes infected by one of his ticks he manages to go globe trotting without anyone noticing he is days from death.
The style is light, in chunks and more like a movie script than a philosophical bio-thriller. The characterisation, whilst clearly not a feature of this novel, is pushed as a light weight sub plot – with the two main characters – Mariah and Curt – presented as a will they or won’t they get it together. She is the female scientist, and he is the government investigator deployed by the state to stop the global crisis. Their predictable romance was dull.
The government deploying these two was never really fleshed out; which seriously undermines how they are chosen for this huge mission. The political dimension is just missing. Mariah and Curt’s mission to stop the stupidly named Doctor Vector is one of terrorism by numbers.
The fast pace of the plot is indicative of the lack of depth to it – there is little in the way of philosophical debate about the virus from any of the characters. Moments like civil disobedience with the quarantine offer little other than that they happened.
There are occasional moments when there is a crucial incident but the plot does not waste time to explain and quickly wraps it up to keep the pace moving. For instance, in the Philippines Mariah is on a mission with Curt and other field agents but is ambushed and kidnapped. It is a moment of terror but crucially the field agents save her. How they find her is never really explained.
The ending in London is an attempt at a cliff-hanger but doesn’t feel like it was sufficiently thought through in terms of the location, and his motives, and the final twist, again, a sop for a sequel or movie. The whole story, whilst easy to follow, did require a certain suspension of belief. The sense of terror is never really given depth – other than Mariah’s kidnap. The novel struggles to create the sense of this being a global virus – the snippets of social problems simply feel like they are randomly dropped into the novel. A missed opportunity.