Title: The Red Death
Author: Birgitte Märgen
Genre: Medical Thriller
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
It started with one death. Not much in the scheme of things. Not in New York City.
But one death leads to two, and what looks like unrelated deaths are linked by horrifying similarities: signs of the plague. The plague.
Maggie De Luca, an epidemiologist, is called in to investigate—and soon realizes she’s in over her head. Microbiologist Michael Harbinger sees the protentional for a global pandemic but thinks he can make a vaccine—except the plant they need to make it only grows in a remote area of the Amazon, surrounded by hostile tribes. As the death toll rises, Maggie and Michael will need all the help they can get if they’re to stop this deadly virus from decimating the population.
In my mind, Stephen King’s The Stand, with its sprawling cast and its terrifying superflu, will always be the epitome of plague/dystopian novels—King is one of the masters, with the ability to terrify with even a single image (a red balloon, a sewer opening). The Red Death is not on that level. But its simple plausibility is horrifying.
I did have some issues with the characters, though. Maggie De Luca is an epidemiologist with the CDC—investigating a suspected case of the plague—and she wanders into a place she feels certain holds clues without even wearing a pair of gloves, much less a hazmat suit? Not believable to me. Which made it hard for me to suspend my belief for the rest of the story—with all the instances of how things “just worked out” without the characters really doing anything. Like the bit in the Amazon. Sure, sometimes things do just work out—but every time? That’s the issue I had with this novel: the plague causing a pandemic was plausible, but the characters and their actions just weren’t, causing a real disconnect for me.
The paragraphs of exposition that opened every chapter—in an “As you know, Bob” format—gave me a chunk of explanation that should have been worked into the story, instead of making me feel like I was attending a lecture.
(Galley courtesy of author in exchange for an honest review.)