AN ANCIENT DISEASE re-emerges in the heart of New York City—a deadly bacteria that gave rise to the Black Death. Maggie De Luca, an ep...

Review || The Red Death by Birgitte Margen

AN ANCIENT DISEASE re-emerges in the heart of New York City—a deadly bacteria that gave rise to the Black Death. Maggie De Luca, an epidemiologist who is fighting her own demons, works to uncover clues to contain the disease, but is always one step behind—her fate determined by the flip of a coin. Microbiologist Michael Harbinger believes he can make a vaccine that can stop the disease, but to do so would require an elusive plant that only grows in a remote region of the Amazon. 

With the help of J.D. Stallings, a paleoanthropologist, and Samantha Boutroux, a bacteriologist, they set out to find the plant that holds the key before the Red Death pandemic grips the world—or has the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, Plague, already opened the gates to our final annihilation? 

The mother of all plagues is back . . .
Let the death toll begin . . . 

ASHES . . . ASHES . . .

As I've said before, my mom influenced my reading growing up. Being a fast reader, I read what was lying around. You could always guarantee that somewhere in our house was Robin Cook thriller — Outbreak being one of my favorites. As I've gotten older, I haven't lost my love for virology stories. For me, the horror of them lies in the ability for it to become truth. As advanced as our medical field is, there is still the ability for a lowly little microbe to not only triumph over us but to do with devastatingly quick certainty. For example, all it takes is a quick search to discover that ebola is still alive and well. Sure, we don't hear much about in the first world countries, but it's still out there, wreaking havoc and killing indeterminately. Global efforts to manage epidemics are documented all the way back to the black plague in 14th century Europe, closing borders and causing panic. Sure, we've managed to create vaccines for many of the pestilent diseases that tormented centuries ago and bubonic plague, which killed 60% of Europe in the 14th century, can be cured with a simple course of antibiotics, but what happens when something new emerges? That's what the Red Death ponders. 

Told in multiple POV starting from the very first person to become ill, The Red Death spends most of its time chasing from one character to another, linking the contact and hastening the spread of the virulent bacteria. It reads very quickly, building a timeline for the infection. Each person is given their own voice and background, allowing the reader to get a feel not only for the personality of the character themselves but also of their hopes and dreams. Given that we only spend a very short time with each character, I felt that this was done extremely well. There's frustration and apprehension, both in the medical professionals and in the public, as more and more people fall ill. 

Maggie De Luca, an epidemiologist for the CDC, feels that frustration more than most as does microbiologist Michael Harbinger. She reminds me a lot of Kate Winslet's character in the Contagion movie. Intrigued by the disease, but yet with a healthy respect for it, she's the one putting all the timeline together. While I didn't care as much for J.D. Stallings, a former classmate of Harbinger, his research is instrumental in finding a cure for the disease. When they link an Amazonian plant to the disease, a trip to the Amazon is in order. This is where I think the book lost my interest. 

Judging solely off the first half, it's well organized and an interesting read. The last half of the book just didn't resonate with me.  Between the sexism and bigotry and the cannibalism plot of the Amazon tribes, The Red Death jumped the shark. From there, it was a rush to the finish to wrap everything up neatly. Also, if you have any type of medical knowledge, the dictionary definition explanations throughout are going to get on your last nerve, as they did mine. Still, there's a lot to like here. Sure, it's formulaic and a bit predictable, but it certainly reads like early 80's Robin Cook. I think with a bit more editing, The Red Death could be a solid read.