Sunday, April 15, 2012

James Lilliefors, VIRAL: Espionage, Enemies, Excellent

Trust Soho Crime to bring us another thriller with global reach, as US author James Lilliefors -- an award-winning journalist for the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Baltimore Sun -- provides a hot new CIA adventure that focuses on medicine and murder in and around Uganda. The two poles of wealth exert a powerful magnetism here: the enormous profits available to pharmaceutical firms and bioweapons developers, and the tragic poverty and endemic diseases of regions of Black Africa.

How much of a stretch is it, to think that manipulative politicians might propose a form of racist eugenics in Third World regions, eliminating the undernourished and overpopulated, in favor of reshaping the world? Unfortunately, American history tells us it's happened before, on a smaller scale. The eugenics movements of the 1920s and 1930s took root in both the United States and Germany. We're still fighting, over and over in the courts, for how much autonomy should be available to people whose mental and emotional states differ from the mainstream -- and in America we've seen mandatory vaccination (now under challenge), sterilization, and involuntary commitment used as weapons instead of gifts.

In Jon Mallory, Lilliefors creates someone whose commitment to doing the right thing puts his life into jeopardy in ways that ring true and terrifying. When Jon goes undercover in Uganda, he's trying to ensure the safety of his brother Charles, who in turn is trapped in CIA connections but struggling to catch up with Jon's whereabouts and find a way to help him survive their mutual investigation and journalistic urge. Here's a sample of how it ramps up:
Her eyes shifted. Jon felt his heart racing, and he thought about logistics -- how would they get back to the airport, out of this country? Don't try too hard. "Is that what he told you? Is that who gave you the warning?"

... The calm steeliness in her eyes was arresting. "We don't know," she said. "We know that Paul had gotten inside. ... He made arrangements for me to come here some time ago. He wanted me to be a witness, in case the worst happened. A back-up."

"A human memory stick."

"Yes. ... He wanted to do something about it. But I'm afraid he didn't make it."
I bit my nails, stayed up too late, and swore I'd wait at least six months before re-reading this compelling thriller. But I may have to give in and tackle it again sooner.

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