Pacific Ocean 1946: Liam Connor of the British Army, a global expert on germ warfare, is sent to help the US Navy foil an attempt by a Japanese submarine to unleash the world’s first biological super-weapon. Code-name: Uzumaki. Translation: Spiral. The devastating decision is made to annihilate Spiral by releasing the world’s fourth atomic bomb, obliterating the weapon before it can release its catastrophic payload.
New York, present day: Connor, now a world-renowned Nobel prize-winner working on the cutting edge of nano-science technology, prayed that the spectre of Spiral would never return. But now it is back and the stakes are exponentially higher. Spiral would be virtually unstoppable with current technological advances and only Connor holds the key to its cure. Those who seek Spiral will stop at nothing to obtain Connor’s knowledge, even if it means his death and that of everyone he holds dear. As the race begins for Spiral, will the world survive the Doomsday scenario about to unfold?
If you’re looking for a fast paced thriller – and Christmas stocking filler given the time of year and close proximity to the festive period – that deftly explores science and technology without seemingly drawing breath then Spiral by Cornell scientist Paul McEuen is undoubtedly the book for you. Spiral is unquestionably one of my finds for 2011 and another one of those books that not only completely surprises you, it leaves you wanting more. A well thought out and delivered ending, McEuen effortlessly ties up the loose ends but at the same time leaving the door open for future adventures – I for one hope we haven’t heard the last of Jake Sterling and Maggie Connor.
The narrative is intelligent, well-structured and told at such a frenetic pace that you’ll find it difficult to draw breath and keep up with the narrator. First impressions – for me at least – were incredibly positive and when McEuen introduces Liam Connor, a thoroughly likeable and perhaps more importantly an engaging and believable character, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in 1946 he opens the door to a mesmerising non stop thriller. The opening salvos lay a foundation that is wonderfully solid and the entire novel is forever thereafter on an unshakeable footing.
When Connor discovers the Uzumaki, literally in the hands of a Japanese prisoner, in 1946 he is forced to make a life altering decision, a decision that will come back to haunt him and his family in the grounds of Cornell University, a campus McEuen vividly brings to life with a descriptive and enthusiastic prose. Liam Connor walks away, secure in the knowledge that he alone is aware of its existence but when a woman – code name Orchid – turns up approximately 65 years later and threatens the 86 year old Cornell professor he realises that drastic measures are called for.
McEuen weaves a fantastic story that combines science, action, torture and a doomsday scenario that certainly leaves you wondering what if. It’s all well and good creating an imaginative storyline that suspends belief – even if it is entertaining – but when an author creates a gripping tale that is entirely plausible – as he does with Spiral – you read the book on a totally different level. With an imagination running riot you begin to imagine the effect of the biological weapon in your own locale and wonder if the worst happened how on earth you’d find a way out of the deadly predicament.
Characterisation is assured and evenly distributed between good and evil and although protagonists Jake Sterling and Maggie Connor command a fair share of the novel McEuen gives ample air time to Orchid as she attempts to change the face of the world as we know it. She really is an intriguing character, a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. She won’t let anyone stop her reaching her goals, she is quite ruthless – but perhaps that’s part of her attraction in a strange way!
“Ten thousand? How could you stand it? It’s inhuman. Monstrous.”
“Perhaps. But the subjects at Unit 731 were well treated, well fed. Not like the other POW camps. Typically we injected them with the pathogen, systematically varying the dose. Then we watched as the disease progressed through them. It was very effective. Different strains could be crossed endlessly, the most deadly variants carefully selected by injecting them into prisoners and culturing the blood of those who died the fastest. After they showed symptoms, we would take constant readings. Temperature, blood pressure, reaction times. Some we would dissect.”
“After they were dead.”
“No. While they were alive.”
McEuen blends historical and scientific fact with incredible fiction ensuring that there’s a little something for everyone here. The author touches on the brutal war crimes committed by the Japanese against Chinese citizens and prisoners of war in North East China – Harbin, Manchuria – in the novel, a fact I didn’t want to believe until I researched it for myself. A museum now stands in Harbin for the 731 Biological unit and the victims of the atrocities.
A well thought out novel, magnificent narrative and infectious storyline it’s hard to believe that Spiral marks Paul McEuen’s debut. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next, this is certainly one thriller not to be missed and one of my top books of 2011.