Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Heartbeat Away - Michael Palmer

Summary:  On the night of the State of the Union address, President Allaire expects to give the speech of his career.  But no one anticipates the terrifying turn of events that forces him to quarantine everyone in the Capitol building.  A terrorist group calling itself "Genesis" has unleashed WRX3883, a deadly, highly contagious virus, into the building.  No one fully knows the deadly effect of the germ except for the team responsible for its development--a team headed by Allaire, himself.  The only one who might be able to help is virologist Griffin Rhodes, currently in solitary confinement in a maximum security federal prison for alleged terrorist acts, including the attempted theft of WRX3883 from the lab where he worked.  Rhodes has no idea why he has been arrested, but when Allaire offers to free him in exchange for his help combating the virus, he reluctantly agrees to do what he can to support the government that has imprisoned him without apparent cause.

Meanwhile, every single person in line for presidential succession is trapped inside the Capitol--every person except one: the Director of Homeland Security, who is safely at home in Minnesota, having been selected as the "Designated Survivor" for this event.  With enemies both named and unnamed closing in, and the security of the nation  at stake, Griff must unravel the mysteries of WRX3883 without violating his pledge as a scientist to use no animal testing in his experiments...and time is running out.  (Summary from book - Image from http://www.michaelpalmerbooks.com/ - Book given free for review)

My Review:  Michael Palmer’s latest novel, A Heartbeat Away, explodes out of the gate with a vicious attack by a covert terrorist organization known only as Genesis. In the months that follow their initial assault, they strike a variety of civilian targets without mercy before mounting an attack on the heart of U.S. political power. When they release a potentially lethal virus during the President’s State of the Union address, chaos erupts, and as people begin to panic, the President is forced to take extreme measures. The story spans the next ten days as a president, a condemned traitor, and countless others, fight to save the nation from a full-scale meltdown and a deadly air-born contagion that could destroy the world.

I don’t read a lot of medical thrillers, so what impresses me might not satisfy a seasoned fan of the genre, but I enjoyed this book. A Heartbeat Away was relevant, tense, and moved quickly with only a few lulls in the action. It also had an ending that was cheesy, but ultimately, satisfying. I finished the latter half in one sitting, thanks to a delayed flight in SLC, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had stuck in an airport. Palmer’s bio-terror scenario was far too realistic for my comfort, but the possibility that something similar could actually occur in our own nation was part of what made this story fascinating.

The only complaints about this book are a few over-the-top moments, some widely spaced profanity, and the frequent reference to the ethics of animal testing which, while admirable, felt a little out of place and unnecessary for the story. While Palmer took his characters to stereotypical extremes (e.g. the noble president, the crusading virologist, the tenacious reporter, the corrupt politician, and the evil terrorist organization), it all fit perfectly into the cinematic nature of the story. I can see this book making it to the big screen and doing quite well (if appropriately cast w/ Alex O’Loughlin as the extremely attractive, yet intelligent virologist). I know I’d go see it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Some infrequent swearing and slightly more frequent violence and death.

Sum it up: An nerve-wracking leap into the what-if’s of biological contagions and terrorism.

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