BOOK OF THE DAY

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Pandemic
By Robin Cook
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
$27.00
ISBN 978-0525535331
Publication Date: December 11 2018

PANDEMIC

Review by Denise

This is not science fiction. A biologically active chimeric molecule — CRISPR/CAS9 — can modify the genetic makeup of living cells. The potential for use and misuse of this mechanism is quite promising on one hand and quite scary on the other. This story featuring forensic pathologist Jack Stapleton of the New York City Office of Medical Examiners focuses on the use of CRISPR/CAS9 in transplantation.

A young woman who had a recent heart transplant collapses and dies on the New York subway. Jack Stapleton performs the autopsy and is initially convinced that she succumbed to a particularly virulent strain of influenza. Worried about the potential for an epidemic, and because the woman has no ID on her, Jack begins an intense investigation involving testing of body fluids and specimens by specialists and goes into the field to attempt to isolate the virus that caused this death. There are no immediate new cases and that increases his confusion — until the next woman dies. It is obvious to him that this particular virulent organism is something completely new and it proves difficult to identify. Can Jack figure out the origin and stop the spread of illness before more people die? NO SPOILERS.

If you like science and medicine, this is a medical thriller that will keep you absorbed. I couldn’t put it down and read it over the course of a couple of hours. I loved the details about the chimera and all of the forensic pathology and epidemiological investigation. It’s just as well that I could focus on the science because I can tell you that I can’t stand Jack. His personality is so annoying and fortunately, I was able to ignore him most of the time while reading. Considering what benefits to medicine and health that could be achieved with CRISPR/CAS9 is mind-boggling. Alleviating organ shortage is just one possible positive use but there are many other indications. But using it will come with a cost and it would be easy for ethical boundaries to fall making it dangerous in the wrong hands. How to control something so revolutionary that almost makes the user a god-like creator. And because of the way the world is now, it’s quite worrisome. This particular book may be fiction, but the science of gene-editing is and will be, at the forefront of huge changes affecting everyone on the planet.

I’ve read all of Cook’s novels despite not liking anything about his main protagonist, Jack Stapleton. Medical thrillers are my favorite genre and I can highly recommend this to like-minded readers.