Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
Plague Maker by Tim Downs
"Can proudly be shelved beside any Crichton or Clancy--and hold its own."
FBI counterterrorism agent Nathan Donovan has seen it all. Assassinations, bomb removals, hostage situations. Yet his Marine days and sixteen weeks at Quantico did nothing to prepare him for watching his son die. Plagued with guilt he can’t admit, Nathan pours himself into his work. Then the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) is called to a not-so-typical murder at an art gallery, and Nathan’s thrust into a deadly cat-and-mouse game involving fleas, fireworks, bubonic plague, and Sato Matsushita, a revenge-filled bioweapons scientist.
Nathan reluctantly joins forces with an elderly Chinese British citizen named Li who seems to know more about the investigation than the FBI does. Is his narrative about Sato Matsushita true? Can Li be trusted? Even more reluctantly, Nathan is forced to work with his ex-wife Macy, an expert in the psychology of terrorism. The trio gradually piece together the picture of a man with a personal vendetta against the U.S.--a vendetta born on a day few can forget: August 6, 1945–the bombing of Hiroshima.
When the FBI discovers a ship possibly carrying Matsushita and a lethal strain of bubonic plague is nearing New York Harbor, the JTTF frantically searches for a way to stop it. Soon they realize there’s only one option. They must board the ship. And there’s no man more qualified for that job than Nathan Donovan. Can they intercept it before time runs out?
Tim Downs has penned a straight-from-the-headlines thriller in Plague Maker. And while the story is primarily Nathan’s, Downs also weaves flashbacks involving Sato Matsushita and Li throughout the novel. Time jumps have the potential to drag a plot, but in this case they embellish it, giving readers key characterization scenes which take place in 1940's Asia and help us understand why and how the present day storyline is important.
Readers of Downs’ previous books Shoofly Pie and Chop Shop (labeled the “Bugman novels” and featuring forensic entomologist Nick Polchak) will be pleased to see Nick again as he makes a cameo to dish out entomological details in his usual dry, humorous fashion. But Plague Maker is bigger and better than either of the Bugman novels. Downs has mastered the art of including enough details to teach without bogging down the story, and he hasn’t neglected his trademark wit, either. And unlike the Bugman novels, Plague Maker’s spiritual message is clear, though definitely not overdone.
Devoid of many thriller nuances like cardboard personalities and limited characterization, Plague Maker is a novel that can proudly be shelved beside any Crichton or Clancy–and hold it’s own.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.