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“If you ask any epidemiologist, they will tell you it’s not a matter of if, but when the next global pandemic begins.”

“A sunken vessel of unknown origins…”

“A hundred miles north of Alaska, an American Coast Guard icebreaker discovers a sunken submarine at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. It has no national identification and doesn’t match the records of any known vessel. Deep within, researchers find evidence of a scientific experiment that will alter our very understanding of the human race.”

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This book is right up my alley. Global outbreak, warn torn countries, science and an underlying century old terrorist group trying to destroy the world. When I first started reading this, I had no idea it was over 670 pages long! I kept looking down at my Kindle shocked at how the “percentage read” indicator was hardly moving. I was happy to see that I had a lot left to go, but I was like jeeeez how long is this thing?

The book begins as all pandemic/outbreak books and movies begin. A nurse runs into a doctor’s office in a small community hospital in Kenya calling for the doctor to come check on two American patients displaying symptoms of a virus that they suspect may be Ebola. Little do they know at the time how contagious this virus (soon to be coined The Mandera Strain) is, and how deadly it will become. It first presents as a respiratory disease, and then rapidly turns into a hemorrhagic fever. “It was the ultimate killer. A virus that was highly infectious in the days after contraction, then extremely deadly shortly thereafter.” Throw in that this is occurring around the holidays, and it is a recipe for disaster. It quickly begins showing up all over the world and then hits the US. “Triple-A reports that despite an uptick in flu activity, they expect a record number of travelers to take to the roads this Thanksgiving weekend. Air travel is also projected to set a new high. Retailers are banking on strong Black Friday sales with Wall Street analysts calling for a ten percent growth in sales over the last year. It was a perfect biological storm. A highly contagious virus, amplifying at the precise moment when movement around the country was at its highest.” By day four of the outbreak, there are 1,200,000 infected and 500 dead. I know this sounds morbid, but at this point of the book I was so excited! Haha.

Dr. Peyton Shaw, the CDC’s leading epidemiologist and new hire educator is dispatched to Kenya with a team of doctors from the CDC, WHO and the Kenyan Ministry of Health when the Mandera Strain becomes categorized as an outbreak. “Tracking outbreaks was her life’s work, but it was also her way of life.” She is extremely dedicated to her field team and ensures them that their safety is a priority. As a seasoned CDC Doctor, she coaches them through the horrors they will soon be encountering and how to navigate through their emotions on their flight to Kenya. Peyton’s story is told in the present time but we get flashbacks into her past about how she became the person she is today. She lost her father at a young age under strange circumstances and her brother passed away while working in Africa during the beginning of the AIDS Epidemic. The loss of these two important people at a young age is what drove her into the career she loves. The career that she also notes holds her back from settling down and starting a family. She feels more at home out in the field battling deadly diseases than she does in her own home. What I loved about Peyton is how layered her story is. Just when we think we know everything about her, we learn of another connection she has to someone within the story. She is extremely intelligent and immediately begins to realize that this virus is spreading far too rapidly to be happening organically. Early on she suspects that this outbreak may have nothing to do with bat droppings and more to do with terrorist activity.

Desmond Hughes awakens with no memory of who he is in a Berlin hotel room sore and uncomfortable from what looks to be a fight with a dead, pharmaceutical security guard lying on the floor. Shortly after, there is a knock on the door from the hotel manager and the authorities. He narrowly escapes the police and begins his frantic wild goose chase around Berlin to figure out who he is and what happened. He has left clues for himself that only mean something to him and must put them all together and follow their leads. Desmond’s first clue leads him to Dr. Shaw who he calls with a message of warning. She is thoroughly confused as to why he can’t remember who she is. There is a smoldering past between them and while he cannot remember exactly what their connection is, all he knows is that he will stop at nothing to protect her. He quickly begins to realize he is connected to the mysterious outbreak of the Mandera Strain and knows that unlocking his memories may be the only way to stop the pandemic.

One of the coolest parts of Desmond’s story is when they are flashing back to his early career. He has left Norman, TX with the aspirations of getting into the Dot.Com/Tech industry which is booming in the Silicon Valley during the early 2000’s. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area and Desmond literally passes my hometown on the freeway during his drive and crosses the bridge I have been over countless times. “It was morning when he drove past Fremont and Newark, onto the Dumbarton Bridge and over the San Francisco Bay, arriving in East Palo Alto.” So cool! I absolutely LOVED Desmond’s back story. Born in Australia, he is forced to move to the states with his harsh and unloving uncle who doesn’t want him at the age of 6 after his parents and younger brother are killed in a fire. He overcomes all of the obstacles he faces in life and becomes a wealthy tech mogul with investments in multiple pharmaceutical and biological companies. Having ties to Big Pharma, his connection to the virus is unnerving as he battles within to remember if he is the good guy or a bad guy in this situation.

What I loved about this book was the lengthy history given about the main characters and their relationships to each other. It didn’t just give us a skeleton outline about its players; we were introduced to them in a way that made us really understand their actions and motivations. Pandemic isn’t just your typical story about a worldwide outbreak. It has layers and layers of espionage, centuries of research done by a group of people who think they will save the world but may in fact have ulterior motives, secrecy, murder, a secret island and other intriguing plot lines. A.G. Riddle had to do extensive research for this book in order to give us history on everything from the atomic bomb to CDC operations and protocols. I loved this book. It ranks very high on my long list of outbreak/pre-apocalyptic fiction books. I came for the usual storyline: Outbreak, people dying, etc., and stayed for the mystery and unraveling puzzle of character connections.

Good news too…this isn’t the only book in the series. The second book Genome is available now. Read it along with me!

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