Large Print Reviews

The Eleventh Plague
By John S. Marr and John Baldwin
Read by Adams Morgan

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The Eleventh Plague

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The Eleventh Plague
By John S. Marr, M.D., and John Baldwin
Read by Adams Morgan
Blackstone Audiobooks, (1999)
An unabridged audiobook on 10 audio cassettes
ISBN: 0-7861-1683-8
Genre: Medical Thriller, Bioterrorism
Other Editions: Large Print - Hardcover | Standard Print - Paperback | Standard Print - Library Binding

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - August 31, 2001

On of the things that make bioterrorism so scary is that it is a weapon that can kill and maim millions without ever making a sound, or without anyone even being aware that an attack has occurred. In The Eleventh Plague, John Marr, an epidemiologist, and John Baldwin have constructed such a deadly scenario, a scenario that is all too gruesome, and the threat all too real.

As this story opens, a swarm of honey bees attack and kill several people near San Antonio's River Walk. Not long after, a young boy and a teenage girl from San Diego die from Anthrax. Around the same time, an unidentified virus begins to kill thoroughbreds at the Churchill Downs Race track. Mere coincidence? To the trained eye of John Drake Byrne, better know as Jack, it quickly becomes apparent that these gruesome cases have more in common than anyone thinks.

When Joey St. John sickens after a trip to the San Diego zoo, Jack, a noted virologist, is called in to help identify the strange disease that is rapidly destroying the young boys body. With profound horror, he discovers that Joey has contacted anthrax - but how? After all, anthrax was not thought to be a threat to humans in the U.S. Thus, begins Jack involvement in this bloodcurdling medical thriller.

Jack is well suited to the task. As head of ProMED, a worldwide reporting network that tracks, among other things, emerging diseases. It is also a forum in which medical experts can post information about puzzling cases in the hope that someone else might be able to help them identify a given illness or disease. For those that are interested, ProMED is a real entity, one that can be accessed via the Internet. In part, due to his position with ProMED and due to his expertise as a virologist, Jack is a virus trouble shooter. When a problem turns up that no one can identify, he is called in to help out.

As more and more unusual diseases arise, Jack comes to believe that they are the work of a demonic, but brilliant, serial killer who is trying to recreate, with a modern twists, the ten biblical plagues leveled against the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus. The stakes are raised when the FBI begins to view Jack as the possible mastermind behind the deadly plague attacks for the simple reason that he is often to be found in areas where an outbreak has just occurred. As we would say in the vernacular, "No Duh!" After all that is the very essence of his job, to go to the scene of an emerging disease and try to decipher what it is, how it is spread, and most important, how to stop it. With finesse, and the help of a whole cast of characters that includes the ProMED network, Jack's hard working lab assistance Drew Lawrence, Victoria Wade, a reporter, and Berger, a teenage Yeshiva student. A Yeshiva is a Jewish, religious high-school.

Jack is a wonderful character to have lead the chase to find the diabolical mastermind of this bioterrorism attack. Not only is he a brilliant virologist, Jack also has first hand knowledge of the effects of bioterrorism. As a child, Jack was interned, with his mother, in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. A camp in which the Japanese experimented with biological weapons - with the prisoners as guinea pigs. He saw many people die horrid deaths, and it was only by a small miracle that he himself survived. Jack is driven to stop the terrorist before he kills more. Yet, at the same time Jack's scientific curiosity is aroused by how the terrorist carried out his actions.

The protagonist of this story, Theodore Graham Cameron a.k.a. Teddy is equally well suited for the role outline for him in this novel. Teddy's main complaint against mankind revolves around him not being considered to be a top microbiologist. By carrying out his reenactment of the plagues, he feels that he can vindicate his standing in the scientific community. Teddy, is, however, also beset by other problems, such as the voices in his head that keep telling him what to do! Teddy is, if nothing else, resourceful. He is not always able to reenact the plagues as described, but he does try to come close, and he always tries to make his plagues deadly.

The Eleventh Plague is an engrossing story that is enhanced by Adams Morgan, the book's reader. Morgan brings the sound of authority to the novel. He has the type of voice that one might associated with a highly respected and trusted doctor who you intuitively know will always go that extra step to help you out. Not only is The Eleventh Plague well plotted and fast paced, but the authors also offer the readers a quick lesson in virology, how viruses are studied, detected, and monitored, and what ProMED is and how it assists the scientific community. This novel is not, however, a story for the squeamish. There are some graphic descriptions of such things as tape worms and the damage that they can do that will make you look at your food with a new light. In short, this is a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is also a story that will make you wonder, the next time you are ill, is it just a cold? Or is it something else....

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